A study of severe wasting in Gambia has found that the influence of the husband/father on child nutrition is crucial. Encouragingly, though not specifically seeking this data, the researchers observed a culture change, with younger fathers showing greater interest in learning about how to support mother and baby. The researchers see this as an opportunity for healthcare providers and recommend more is done to engage fathers in infant nutrition programmes.
In this study of 280 families in rural Gambia – 77 with a child suffering severe wasting and 203 without – family support for adequate infant feeding was found to be a critical factor in the prevention of wasting. In all the families, the mothers and fathers were married and in all cases the mothers led on infant feeding decisions. Interviews with some of the mothers and fathers identified three supportive roles that fathers play:
- Financial – providing money for food.
- Emotional – good marital relations enhancing the mother’s ability to make sound feeding decisions.
- Practical – feeding, bathing, taking the child to clinic, organising transport to hospital. Some fathers were challenging existing local social norms by being active in such caring and household tasks.
In cases where the father was not supportive – through abandonment or death – the support of other relatives and peers was important, though less reliable, particularly if the supporters were themselves financially dependent elsewhere.
Severe wasting risks the death of the child. Its prevalence in West Africa is 1-2%.
Nabwera HM Moore SE, Mwangome MK, Molyneux SC, Darboe MK, Camara-Trawally N, Sonko B, Darboe A, Singhateh S, Fulford AJ & Prentice AM (2018), The influence of maternal psychosocial circumstances and physical environment on the risk of severe wasting in rural Gambian infants: a mixed method approach, BMC Public Health 18
Photo: Mishimoto. Creative Commons.