A study about couple collaboration around breastfeeding, involving 10 educated couples in Jakarta, Indonesia, found that the mothers regarded the father as the main source of support around breastfeeding.
The most important thing is husband, I don’t know what will happen if my husband is not beside me….When we faced the most difficult part in the middle of the night, my husband helped and woke up too. Even though he was doing nothing, his presence at that time was such a big help.
There were two important ways my husband was involved: deciding to breastfeed and waking up in the night.
The student researcher, Angga Sisca Rahadian, made three recommendations for breastfeeding support:
- Ensure fathers understand the importance of breastfeeding. If they do, they will support it more.
- Give fathers more paternity leave to be able to help with breastfeeding in the early days. (In Indonesia, fathers only get two days.)
- Organise public awareness activities to legitimise fathers’ support for breastfeeding.
In this small sample, all the couples breastfed exclusively, except one where a baby was fed by dual means for medical reasons. All the fathers were supportive of breastfeeding, describing it as “natural” and a woman’s “privilege”. They talked about the health benefits, the mother-baby bonding and the economic savings. Some fathers drew inspiration from their religion, Islam. Their knowledge of breastfeeding was generally high, though there was more variation in relation to the particular issue of exclusive breastfeeding.
The fathers described how they helped psychologically – being kind and responsive, helping the mother to be happy and not stressed, sharing responsibility for breastfeeding, working “as a team”. The mothers also described this kind of support from the fathers – how fathers helped when things were difficult or supporting breastfeeding when the wider family was less supportive.
Mothers and fathers described a wide range of ways that fathers offered practical help, for example, buying food, massaging the mother, cooking, waking up at night to keep the mother company, babycare, housework, arranging administrative matters, contacting health providers, and help with pumping.
Fathers also described how important they felt it was to establish their own close relationship with the baby.
Some of the fathers who had more children in the past expressed their desire to be more involved this time, learning from experience and correcting previous omissions.
Some parents described intergenerational differences of opinion about the role of the father in caring for a baby within their families, though among educated couples in Indonesia, fathers are now generally expected to be coparents.
The study was carried out with the peer-led father network, Ayah ASI, which started in 2001 on Twitter and organises informal meetings. It started in Jakarta and has spread to other cities in Indonesia. Ayah ASI exists to promote awareness of the role of fathers in caring for babies and in supporting breastfeeding. In April 2018, they had 428,000 Twitter followers and 41,800 Instagram followers.
The rate of exclusive breastfeeding is low in Indonesia compared to other countries. At 6 months, 40% of mothers are breastfeeding exclusively, compared to 65% in India and Cambodia, 61% in Kenya and 56% in Papua New Guinea.
Rahadian AS (2018), How can fathers breastfeed? Asking Ayah in Jakarta, Indonesia, Masters of Social Sciences Thesis, University of Waikato, New Zealand
Photo: CIFOR. Creative Commons.