The vital role of fathers in breastfeeding

28 June 2018

Masters 3MT winner Angga Rahadian

The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life are well understood. But University of Waikato masters student Angga Rahadian, winner of this year’s 3MT Masters Competition, is taking a different approach to researching breastfeeding success, by looking at the vital role fathers play.

Originally from Jakarta, Angga was drawn to the University of Waikato’s National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis for its expertise in population health. Studying under Dr Polly Atatoa Carr, Angga is focussing on social policy in Indonesia relating to supporting the role that fathers play in breastfeeding, such as paternity leave, and improvements that would contribute to higher rates of breastfeeding success. Angga’s research specifically focusses on improving exclusive breastfeeding rates, where babies are supported only by breast milk for the first six months of life. There is a lot of room for improvement in exclusive breastfeeding rates in Indonesia (and the same is true in New Zealand), she says.

“I have two young daughters, and was successful in exclusive breastfeeding thanks to the support of my husband,” Angga says, “but some of my friends weren’t as lucky.” Indonesia currently legislates for three months’ leave for new mothers, but there is no specific paternity leave available in Indonesian regulations. Every company in Indonesia has a different policy on paternity leave. “In some companies, paternal leave is given for only one day. Fathers wanting to take time off to support their partner and baby commonly have to take annual leave, and are reliant on their employers to grant this."

Angga’s research, which involved interviewing Indonesian mothers and fathers about the father’s role in supporting breastfeeding, found that when mothers feel well supported and calm, milk production and breastfeeding success increases. Two particular areas of support from the father were vital to breastfeeding success: physical support, and psychological support. Physical support included assisting with housework, cooking and other tasks to allow the mother to feel rested and give her time to focus on feeding her baby. Psychological support included fathers educating themselves on breastfeeding, and helping to protect their baby’s mother from negative and erroneous comments from visiting family and friends.

When her thesis is complete, Angga will return to Indonesia where she plans to present her findings to relevant policy and programme development agencies, such as the Indonesian Ministries of Health, Manpower, National Development Planning, and also breastfeeding supporting communities, with recommendations for policy change. She and her husband have previously been involved in a breastfeeding community just for fathers (and founded by men), which aims to increase awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and to inform and empower fathers to play an active role in a traditionally female-only domain.

Winning the 3MT Masters Competition means that Angga will travel to Christchurch to represent Waikato at the 2018 National 3MT Masters Inter-University Challenge on Thursday 23 August 2018. “This is going to be quite a challenge,” Angga says, “as my thesis is due for submission on 24 August!”

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