Maternal health service overturns local culture defining babycare as women’s business – starting in the car park (Papua New Guinea)

Culture fathers

Since 2013 the Burnet Institute has implemented the Healthy Mothers, Health Babies project that seeks to improve maternal and child health in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. As well as increasing pregnant women’s knowledge of maternal and child health and improving care seeking, the project encourages expectant fathers to play an active and positive role in supporting the health of their partner and children, challenging local culture.

Fathers were considered important because in the local culture they are the head of the family and, in this role, they influence health seeking behaviours and resource allocation, which have major implications for the health outcomes of mothers and babies.

The project supports health care workers to provide information sharing sessions to expectant parents while they wait for their antenatal care appointments. The health care workers are trained to conduct the sessions using a toolkit that includes session plans, teaching tool and activities. Each session is designed to be interactive and fun.

The topics covered in the information sharing sessions include: The First Nine Months, Staying Healthy During Pregnancy, Preparing for Labour, Sex & Pregnancy, Looking after your Baby, The First Six Weeks after Birth, Immunization and Malaria & Pregnancy. In total there are twelve 1 hour sessions.

Like many other places around the world, pregnancy and childbirth in Papua New Guinea are viewed as ‘women’s business’ and men were not encouraged or supported to be involved. To overcome this, the project began working in one health clinic. Initially conducting information sharing sessions in the car park, where men waited for their partners, over time the sessions moved up to the clinics. At the same time project staff worked closely with the health care providers to encourage them to include fathers in the appointments.

Quite quickly it became evident to the health care workers that, when fathers were involved in antenatal care, the health outcomes of mothers and babies improved. The first father to support his wife through labour became a champion for the project and spoke publically about how he had grown as a husband and a father through participating in the program, and he encouraged others to participate.

The project grew from there. Since the project began, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of men accompanying their partners to antenatal care appointments and attending the birth. Health facility staff have also reported improvements in mothers’ preparation for birth, attendance at antenatal care, immunization of babies, use of contraceptives and birth spacing. Mothers participating in the program have reported, improved communication with their partners, increased help with household chores and childcare, and better financial support for healthcare, nutrition and childcare. Finally, the men who have participated say they better understand how to support their partners during pregnancy and childbirth, they have a stronger bond with their children and they are better husbands and fathers.

Everyone participating in the program agrees that pregnancy and childbirth are no longer ‘women’s business’ but are instead ‘family business’.


Text by Lisa Davidson, Senior International Health Technical Adviser, Burnet Institute,

Originally published in The Fatherhood Research Bulletin produced by the Australian Fatherhood Research Network with support from the Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle, Australia.

Photo: Juliana Makap, Burnet Project Officer conducting a session on the stages of labour with a first time expectant father. He became one of the first men in his village to assist his wife through labour and become a proud father of a baby girl.