The roles of fathers during the exclusive breastfeeding period are significant. As one of the people closest to the mother, the father can play important roles to provide support. These include reducing the burdens of childrearing for a mother when she is breastfeeding a baby.
However, these roles have been neglected in Indonesia.
Indonesia’s strong patriarchal values lead many to strongly believe that child-rearing, including breastfeeding, is the sole responsibility of women. These values hinder fathers from supporting mothers during what can be difficult and challenging times.
During breastfeeding, not a few women suffer from the baby blues syndrome as they struggle to breastfeed and at the same time meet the never-ending baby demands.
The syndrome makes women feel sad and moody after giving birth and can lead to depression.
Yet, in Indonesia, it is acceptable for fathers to be absent during the breastfeeding process – even though research in various countries shows a positive correlation between fathers’ involvement and successful exclusive breastfeeding. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding means babies get only breast milk without water or solid food for the first six months of their lives.
Exclusive breastfeeding not only produces health benefits for mothers and babies but also provides economic benefits for the families and the nation. Lower-income families can save their money instead of buying expensive milk formula, while the government benefits from reducing child morbidity and mortality.
There are at least two things that Indonesian policymakers can do to encourage fathers to be involved in ensuring the success of exclusive breastfeeding.
First, raise awareness
The government can work together with communities to raise awareness that breastfeeding is not only women’s responsibility.
In Indonesia, there is a community of fathers supporting breastfeeding in Indonesia, known as Ayah ASI Indonesia.
Using social media, the group has increased breastfeeding knowledge among the public. They post information based on credible sources to correct the myths, answer common questions about breastfeeding from their followers, and always encourage fathers to be involved in parenting activities, including breastfeeding.
Their work is quite effective in targeting middle-income families in urban areas.
The government can also strengthen the role of primary health centres to promote breastfeeding awareness among people in remote areas and to encourage fathers to support breastfeeding mothers.
Primary health centres in remote areas mostly offer training to motivate mothers about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
The training is conducted by a breastfeeding counsellor who has previous experiences of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Second, promote paternity leave
Indonesia is not familiar yet with paternity leave – leave specifically for fathers following the birth of their child.
Indonesia’s Labour Law only allows for two days’ leave for new fathers to accompany their wives during childbirth.
In some other developed countries, fathers are entitled to more than 18 weeks of leave.
There are many benefits for fathers if they take paternity leave.
They can build a strong bond with their newborn child. And they can contribute more to supporting the mother and also to the child’s development. This will contribute to exclusive breastfeeding success.
Having time off work and being at home allow fathers to help by, for example, cooking to provide nutritious food for the mother, bathing babies and changing diapers.
Indonesia’s current labour law does not regulate paternity leave, even though the country’s 2009 Law on Health states that every child has the right to receive exclusive breast milk for a minimum of six months.
The law requires the government, community and family, including fathers, to support mothers by giving proper attention and facilities. This means it is very important for Indonesia to start regulating paternity leave.
Women need support
The role of fathers in supportinng mothers is crucial. Both physical and psychological support from fathers are essential for the mother when they breastfeed.
Physical support can involve helping with domestic chores or accompanying mothers when they wake up at night. Psychological support can ensure mothers overcome the challenges and achieve successful exclusive breastfeeding.
We need to support breastfeeding mothers by raising awareness of the important roles of fathers in supporting the mother of their child. Knowing the significance of breastfeeding for shaping the nation’s future generation, we can encourage policymakers to start offering parental leave to fathers so they can support their wives during breastfeeding.