A qualitative study involving in-depth interviews with 10 fathers in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe found higher levels of involvement by fathers in complementary feeding than the researcher was expecting.
The fathers of 6 to 23 month olds were not formally employed and were all doing small, part-time jobs, as well as subsistence farming. The interviews showed that many fathers identified with the provider role – buying food, giving money to buy food and growing food. But the fathers also reported direct involvement in feeding the children, for example, preparing simple meals when their wives were away from the home, busy or unwell. The fathers spoke of this activity confidently and happily.
The researcher rather disarmingly admits coming to the study with unfounded assumptions that fathers would not understand or be involved in feeding.
The researcher quotes media coverage in Zimbabwe of changing social norms around fathers being involved directly in the care of young children, sometimes in defiance of community perceptions.
The researcher quotes earlier research from Niger, Bangladesh, Malawi, Peru and Zambia showing that, when fathers are targeted with messaging about nutrition, complementary feeding improves. Other studies have recommended that fathers should be involved more, viewed as resources, not just as obstacles.
Nutrition of infants in Zimbabwe is poor. Only 16% of children receive at least four out of the seven recommended food groups – “minimum dietary diversity” – according to the National Nutritional Survey of 2018.
Moyo SA & Schaay N (2019), Fathers’ perceptions and personal experiences of complementary feeding of children 6 to 23 months in south-western Zimbabwe, World Nutrition 10.3
Header photo: UNICEF. Creative Commons.