A study in Kenya has explored how fathers understand and support exclusive breastfeeding. Most prominent is practical support – nutrition, housework, childcare and finance. Second to this is emotional support for the mother. The study revealed fathers’ limited knowledge of breastfeeding and observed little informational support from health facilities. The researcher recommends more action by health facilities to inform fathers.
The study, carried out as part of Masters of Science degree, took place in Kiambu County in Kenya. It involved 13 fathers of 0-4 month old babies who were exclusively breastfed. 8 of the fathers had secondary school education, 2 only primary and 2 had studied beyond secondary level.
Before being individually interviewed for up to 45 minutes, the fathers were asked to complete a ‘qualitative story completion exercise’. The story contained three separate prompts about a couple trying to breastfeed their child at home. Fathers spent up to 20 minutes on this method and their responses are summarized below:
- The mother is struggling with breastfeeding when the father comes home. What happens next?
- 7 offered help with technique, such as positioning the baby
- 3 offered help to the mother, such as food
- 4 offered to help the baby, checking health and soothing
- 4 offered to get professional advice
- How does the father support the mother to breastfeed?
- 6 offered practical help with nutrition, 4 with childcare, 3 with housework and 1 with money
- 4 focused on emotional support for the mother
- 2 offered informational support to encourage breastfeeding
- What knowledge is the father using to support breastfeeding?
- 6 said the father understood the benefits to infant development and 5 the benefits to infant nutrition
- 2 said the father understood the benefits to the mother
The interviews reinforced these themes. There was considerably more appreciation of the benefits of breastfeeding to the baby than to the mother. Whilst most fathers were positive about breastfeeding, they had a limited understanding of why 6 months is recommended.
Kenya is a leader among lower-middle income countries in rates of breastfeeding initiation and exclusive feeding. The median duration of exclusive breastfeeding in the Kiambu region is 4.3 months.
Phillips TM (2020), Fathers’ narratives and perspectives on exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months in Kiambu County, Kenya, Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University
Header photo: naddel. Creative Commons.