Why Husbands Matter
A healthy child is the foundation for strengthening a nation with the initial 1000 days after birth determining how strong is the foundation of physical and mental growth of a child. A key ingredient to ensuring birth of a healthy baby is to focus on maternal health and nutrition a woman during pregnancy and post birth.
Engagement of husbands in maternal nutrition program could be the single most important intervention that contributes to greater intake of micronutrient supplements and dietary diversity during pregnancy and reduces maternal under nutrition and mortality in developing countries, according to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition in August 2018.
My conversations this year with healthcare professionals, policy makers, women with their husbands and mothers-in-law to improve maternal nutrition has underscored the importance of the husband or a male family member on the health of the women/girls especially during their reproductive years and pregnancy.
As per SRS statistical report India has shown a record 22% decline in maternal mortality ratio (MMR), from 167 (2011-2013) to 130 (2014-2016) deaths per 100,000 live births, primarily by increasing access to skilled care during pregnancy and institutional delivery at birth.
However, its progress on reducing all forms of maternal malnutrition and its related adversities - small for gestational age newborns or low birth weight, remains slow. Experts in the field stress the need for husbands to be counseled along with their pregnant wife on their role in antenatal checkups, preconception care, availing government entitlements, etc.
In India, about a quarter of currently married women did not participate in decision-making in family about their own health while over 60% took these decisions in consultation with husband (NFHS Report 2015-2016).
In its most recent recommendations, the World Health Organisation has highlighted the need for educating husbands on positive pregnancy of women. It also recommends strategies like using booklets and audio cassettes to engage husbands in maternal care through external or peer supported learning.
As a responsible husband and future father they can encourage right nutrition practices for their wife to ensure birth of a healthy birth. Support of husband only becomes useful when they incorporate pregnancy related knowledge and awareness in practice.
Reminders for husbands:
1. Make an aware choice to ensure registration of your wife during pregnancy and save reminders of next visit to antenatal care centers.
2. Keep contact number of local ASHA and ambulance service to be able to seek help or guidance during pregnancy of your wife.
3. Purchase nutritious foods for your wife
4. Stop hassling and instead empathize with your wife, as she may have emotional ups and downs, which are common during pregnancy.
My research has taught me that women’s health is one of the most intricate and complex social issue to tackle. It’s not just about health of women but gender equality, social ideology, political as well as human rights. The current state of women’s health is far from optimal. To ensure improvement in the care and welfare of women, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers it is time we took a firm stance to ensure their physical and mental well being. This requires greater focus on providing and improving the infrastructure to provide them greater care beginning from their homes.
(Akanksha Srivastava an experienced nutritionist and health blogger.)