Friday, October 17, 2008
Profile of WABA MWG Coordinator
Coordinator, WABA Men's Working Group
Following a consultation with members of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) Men's, and Gender Working Group, and Mother Support Task Force, the International Secreatariat was pleased to make it public that James Achanyi-Fontem is the Coordinator of the Men's Working Group (MWG) from 2008. This position was formerly held by Co-coordinators, Ray Maseko (Swazliand) and Per Gunner Engblom (Sweden) since Oct 2006.
James Achanyi-Fontem is 53 years of age and is a Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He is also a father of six children (3 Girls and 3 Boys) and a grand father of three (two boys and one girl). All of them were breastfed. As the first son of his family, he was breastfed for 36 months. His grand children were also exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with the Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring. He is now the National Coordinator of Cameroon Link, an umbrealla registered charity, not-for-profit organisation, involved in the promotion of, community health, humanitarian assistance, socio-economic development, and human rights advocacy created. He is also the current Chairperson of the Cameroon Breastfeeding Protection and Promotion Task Force, the Mutual Health Insurance Group of Bonassama Health District and Coordinator of the Anti-Corruption Committee of the Health District Hospital of Bonassama. He Coordinates the IBFAN Cameroon Group and Fine Forest Foundation Cameroon activities. He is also the Chairperson of the Federation of Cameroon Breastfeeding. He had held the positions of Editorial Advisor and Editor-in-chief of a some five different national tabloid newspapers and magazines from 1984 to 2004. James has been an active member of the Men’s Initiative, contributing to the Regional Snapshots project and through Cameroon Link. He has done a tremendous amount of work on issues surrounding support and training for fathers and families before his appointment as the Internataional Coordinator of the WABA Men’s Working Group.
Since his appointment, James Achanyi-Fontem has initiated a number of ways to get men involved in the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.
Why Involve Men in Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is an important part of Infant and Young Child Feeding, Reproductive Health and Nutrition. Reproductive Health biologically involves the man and the woman and the attitudes of men towards breastfeeding strongly influence the mother’s own point of view.
Men are generally one important source of support in mother’s decision to breastfeed and in its successful implementation. There is also a positive connection between the degree of men’s support and the total duration of breastfeeding.
A Men’s Involvement in the breastfeeding situation strengthens his relationship to both the mother and the baby, and helps him to develop his fatherhood role in general. Highlighting the father’s role in more general terms like parenting can broaden the argument for mother support, which is beneficial for both and the baby.
Advantages of a Men’s role in Fatherhood
Acclaimed researchers quote several advantages when both the father and mother are active and engaged in child care, compared to when only one is active. For example:
• Children psychological development and social skills are favoured by communication with committed father and mother.
• Men develop their empathic ability during pre-natal and post natal consultations and during this period, women are generally educated and trained on child bearing.
• A more equal division of responsibilities increases the possibilities for both parents to fill many roles within the family complex, which tend to make them more satisfied with their lives.
• Cultures with committed men to child care have reduced hostility and violence against women.
Men’s Role As Gender Issue
Gender is considering masculinity versus feminity, which is a system of continually evolving social practices that define roles, assigns resources and establishes power relations.
From the above observation, gender roles are dynamic, constructed through social interaction, reinforced and reproduced by social institutions. Gender equity and equality work towards a society where women and men have equal opportunities, rights and obligations in all aspects of life. From a gender perspective, how paid work and care giving are combined, reflects assumptions and norms in the gendered situations of family and work.
Gender researcher (Linda Haas and others) claim that as long as women are assumed to be more responsible than men for child care, especially qs women’s role as mothers will continue to be a major obstacle to their achieving economic and social equality with men. Therefore, fathers’ involvement in child care including breastfeeding is clearly a gender issue.
Enabling Men to be Supportive
Many men need to be better prepared to assume a role as breastfeeding supporter. Studies have shown that breastfeeding education and promotion programmes have effects on knowledge, attitudes and support for breastfeeding. Evidence suggests that even simple and inexpensive interventions can increase the level of breastfeeding knowledge of men.
It is important that men understand what it means for a woman, both physically and psychologically, to go through pregnancy, delivery and start breastfeeding. Well informed men know the importance of being patient and sensitive as the mothers recover from the baby delivery experience and gain confidence in breastfeeding.
By importing the same knowledge and sharing the breastfeeding moments, the man helps the new mother to gain breastfeeding skills. He can also protect her from misinformation about breastfeeding in the community, or even from friends and relatives. Sharing child care and responsibilities of the life strengthens parental relationship in the difficult period of transition and adjustment.
Most preparatory courses for parents are organized at the pre-natal and post natal units of health facilities. The education is generally of a practical nature and focuses on medical factors of pregnancy, baby delivery and breastfeeding. This important forum involves issues of social and individual changes, and creates space for especially men to reflect on their situation and role. By focusing on and activating men, their role strengthens and they get a wider knowledge, more adjusted to their life situation and thus more useful to them.
Many different ways exist to construct a forum for men, where they can get information and discuss parenthood. The right way to trigger the process depends on the interests and needs of the men’s support group created which we aim at. Men’s groups operate differently a few months before baby delivery and differently thereafter. It is generally easier to reach men before baby delivery compared to a few days and weeks after. The period immediately after baby delivery is the time when most decisions about how the baby will be feed and nourished.
The most crucial step is how you invite men to participate in decision making with their partners. The knowledge and experiences of the resource persons during this period of fatherhood counseling reflects the importance of the information, message and the type of the decision that would be taken. It is important to use well known and accepted channels for specific messages.
To reach men, it might be most appropriate that the counselor is a man, because birds of the same feathers fly together. The counseling forum should be able to address other complimentary issues that men would like to discuss. Most women do not talk when men are around and even some men also do not voice their opinions when women are around.
That is why, it is advised to organize separate counseling sessions for men and women, as well as joint session with equal numbers for both target groups.
Men’s Support Groups
Men need support to be supportive. It is a matter of team work and reciprocity. A man that views himself as a subordinate in his own family and plays his role only out of expectation, does not usually give high quality support due to the lack of confidence.
It is important for women to trust their partners to win their confidence. When a man is confident, he obviously joins his partner in child care sharing of responsibilities. The man should be motivated to understand the advantages of spending time with the baby to encourage attachment, as this is beneficial for the well being of the whole family.
Before becoming a first-time mother, women have the advantage of getting information from counselors or health consultants during the pre and post natal period. Men have a right to this counseling opportunity too, but they are not offered these rights in health facilities due to shortages of staff. This explains why, it is not often expected of men to engage in caring for the new born. WABA Men’s Initiative aims at reversing this situation.
Mother often need time and space for relaxation, especially when the baby is anxious or ill. If baby – father attachment had been encouraged immediately after delivery, the man will help out in such situations. This will allow the mother to be able to be alone during her relaxation period, to rest and regain strength without having to worry about the two others. This procedure requires that the mother is willing to have confidence in the father that he will care for the baby well.
It is also know that breastfeeding can sometimes inhibit fathers from developing close relationship with their children and this has a negative effect on parenthood relations. Most often at this time, men feel excluded, jealous and resentful to the detriment of breastfeeding success and to the relationship between the father and the mother. Helping men to find other ways and situations where they can develop a close relationship with their children will be important and necessary. Men need to be offered the knowledge and support to minimize negative effects in the family due to breastfeeding.
Me also sometimes feel neglected and made disassociated by relatives, friends and even the maternity services. Men should be made to feel themselves as parents and not only like baby sitters or child care takers. The maternity services should develop strategies to improve on this relationship between the couple.
Giving the Right Information
Information can, if delivered in a right way influence men and change their views and behaviour. Engaging with family professionals can impact positively on fathers’ negative behaviour and parenting styles, increase their knowledge and understanding of child development, increase their confidence in their parenting skills, and lead to more sensitive and positive parenting and to greater involvement in infant and child care, and in interaction with children.
Men should be encouraged to be present during delivery by their partners. Their presence during delivery seems to have positive effects on the wellbeing of both the mother and the baby. Having the father nearby during the first hour of labour seems to make it easier for mother to successfully initiate breastfeeding and also seems to positively influence the duration of breastfeeding.
Men’s Attitude towards Breastfeeding
Some men have misconception and negative attitudes towards breastfeeding. To overcome these obstacles, issues of breastfeeding need to be discussed with both men and women during pregnancy and childbirth preparation visits. Health professional should make information available to both the father and mother.
The two most common perceptions with negative attitudes of men is the exposure of the mother’s breast and that breastfeeding will make them less attractive. Actually, there is not much knowledge about why some fathers have negative views about breastfeeding. If we knew more about this, better measures would be taken to correct the situation.
As described above, a mother’s perception of her partner’s attitudes towards breastfeeding influences her choice of infant feeding method. However, she is often wrong about this. Scientific research has shown that men may have more favourable attitudes towards breastfeeding than their partners think.
Postpartum depression is a common affliction which severely can lower women’s incentive to breastfeed and in other ways cause difficulties to babies’ health. If rightly informed, men can be made to care for the psychological health of their partner, as they are likely to know them rather well and notice if there is some serious trouble arising. If necessary, help can be requested through contact with the local breastfeeding counsellor or health consultant.
First-time fathers can be seen as a special risk group. They have a difficult time identifying themselves as fathers and surprisingly enough, health professionals tend to neglect them. With young couples, the quality of the relationship between both seems to be the most important factor for high men’s involvement the months after childbirth. This another argument for involving the importance of parenthood in the information offered at the maternity health care centre by professionals.
Learning about Gender Issues
A men’s relation to breastfeeding aims at improving on the environment and perceptions of what their role should be. Traditionally, caring for children is not an important part of the concept of masculinity, as it is the concept of feminity. Gender issues must be discussed and men’s ideas about masculinity must be challenged.
Just like the mother, fathers need knowledge and incentives to be supportive. Attitudes concerning breastfeeding are influenced from all kinds of sources surrounding the family – relatives, friends, practitioners, legislators – and these attitudes can be linked to values of lifestyle and stereotype gender roles. In perspective, breastfeeding should be a concern, not only for the father, but for all men.
Men’s Initiative Activities
1. Breastfeeding Promotion and protection through information and education
2. Parenting interventions focused on Gender Equality Promotion
3. Organization of capacity building training for health professionals on methods to reach, educate and empowerment men and youths on breastfeeding promotion
4. Prepare course tools for gender equality promotion in the context of breastfeeding to transform Men’s Support Groups into Breastfeeding Advocate.
5. Advocate for maternity legislation for the protection of women and child rights to breastfeeding.
6. Encourage women to let their partners know that they approve of their exclusively breastfeeding babies for the first six months with complimentary feeding thereafter, and continued breastfeeding up to 24 months and above.
7. Advocacy for legislature to give more opportunities to engage more in concerns of home and child care, and mothers should be given the possibilities to engage in bread-winning jobs.
8. Encourage the creation of many Men’s Support Groups, especially for assisting infants in vulnerable life situation.
9. Increase the knowledge of fathers of “newly born”, who do not have all the facts necessary for appropriate and adequate child care.
10. Collect information and snap shots for publication in the e-newsletter « Not for Fathers Only » as exchange channel of experiences and promotion of dialogue.
It is recalled that, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) is a global network of individuals and organisations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide based on the Innocenti Declarations, the Ten Links for Nurturing the Future and the WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding. Its core partners are International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), La Leche League International (LLLI), International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), Wellstart International and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM). WABA is in consultative status with UNICEF and an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC).
WABA, PO Box 1200, 10850 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: 604-658 4816 Fax: 604-657 2655