A small qualitative study of fathers in South Africa, unusual simply by virtue of taking place in Africa, has found that fathers are highly attentive to the importance of breastfeeding and prepared to support it.
The researchers conclude that it is a valuable investment in promoting breastfeeding to engage with fathers. Women should be encouraged by healthcare workers to invite their male partners to participate in breastfeeding counselling sessions.
Twelve fathers of infants aged less than six months in the Limpopo province, South Africa, were interviewed. Five themes emerged.
Breastfeeding is good for babies and for mothers.
“Breast milk is number one. Yes, I chose it for my baby boy and I still think we made the best choice for choosing breast milk for our baby.”
“I have seen with my child that breastfeeding protects the baby from all of these sicknesses. My first baby was not breastfed, we gave him formula milk and he was forever sick.”
The role of the father is to support the mother, emotionally and financially.
“My major role is to make sure that my wife is happy and comfortable with everything. I mean how can she breastfeed the baby if she is not happy? I have to make her happy and love her always.”
“The man is the head of the house, so he should be able to provide financial support to the wife. A wife needs food and cosmetics, so how can she breastfeed well if she is hungry and broke?”
The role of the father is to protect the family from the influence of formula milk promotions.
“My major role is to protect my child from mixed feeding because I was told in the clinic that it does not provide better nutrition than the breast.”
“I need to make sure that my wife does not get tempted to accept any gift from these formula people because sometimes they just give formula milk for free and our wives would think it’s a good thing. ”
The role of the father is to assist in healthcare.
“My major role as the father is to assist my wife to seek healthcare whenever the child is sick, and I need to be there when they make decisions about my child. My role is also to be involved in everything like immunisations and I should be there when they introduce other food stuffs as well.”
Fathers can face negative attitudes in health services and cultural barriers at home and in the community.
“I remember one sister was teaching all women in the clinic about breastfeeding and its benefits. She did not appreciate my presence, instead she requested me to go out because she was teaching about women issues… yes, that is what she said.”
“My wife does not like it when I ask if she has breastfed the baby or not. The only answer I will get from her is that she knows what’s good for her baby and that I shouldn’t be too concerned about kitchen issues because the way she feeds the baby is her own responsibility.”
“Yes, our culture does not allow men to be involved in issues of breastfeeding or how the woman gives birth. Yah, but because I understand these things better now, I support my wife irrespective of those cultural beliefs because at the end the baby is mine and I need to make sure that this woman is doing what is right for our child.”
Mgolozeli SE, Shilubane HN, Khoza LB & Nesamvuni CN (2018), Perceived roles of fathers in the promotion, support and protection of breastfeeding, Africa Journal of Nursing and Midwifery 20.2
Photo: Danny. Creative Commons.