EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Hery Firdaus, Indonesian Male Breastfeeding Counsellor

By Nabila Hanim, BMSG Staff

 

It is easy to assume that breastfeeding advocacy is a female domain but when BMSG met Hery Firdaus, an Indonesian male breastfeeding counsellor and advocate, at the recent Regional Breastfeeding Conference at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we were blown away. Hery, 37, a father of two, shares with us, in an exclusive interview, of how he is no different from other breastfeeding advocates. The work that he does in rallying husbands in the Indonesian community to be more proactive in supporting their breastfeeding wives is just part of his vision as a counsellor, just like many others who work with mothers and their families to provide accurate breastfeeding support.

Read on to find out more about what Hery does in raising awareness and inculcating breastfeeding education in the local community and especially on efforts to encourage husbands to become a big source of help for their wives in breastfeeding.

1. Hi Hery, tell us more about yourself! We heard that you are a breastfeeding counsellor and we have never met a male one before!

Hery and his team conduct breastfeeding workshops for fathers in several provinces in Indonesia. Here, he is demonstrating using a baby doll to fathers in Lombok, Indonesia. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

I have been trained as a breastfeeding counsellor in 2010 when I was working with Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation, in the Aceh Province. At that time, Save the Children was working on the “Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition Programme”. During this period, we conducted some interventions to the local community, such as providing classes for mothers to educate them about breastfeeding and also encouraging local healthcare providers to support patients through breastfeeding counselling and support, especially to mothers with babies and who are breastfeeding.

During the project, I had managed to convince myself to use this skill and knowledge as my call to help breastfeeding mothers and to promote breastfeeding, which is still perceived as a domestic issue that only involves women here in my country. Even more than that, I pushed myself to organize other people, men and women, to officialize the launch of AIMI, otherwise known as the Indonesian Breastfeeding Mother Association, in November 2011 for North Sumatra Province in Medan.

Hery (in blue t-shirt, standing) teaching a classroom of fathers how to give a massage to help with relaxation and letdown for breastfeeding mothers. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

2. How long have you been involved in lactation support? Was fatherhood a motivating factor as well?

I have been involved in lactation support and became officially trained in 2010, as mentioned above. Fatherhood is not the only reason. I believe that the knowledge and skills as a breastfeeding counsellor are useful and should not stop at myself, but it can be my reason to contribute to the community. Currently, through AIMI, this spirit of giving back has led to the formation of several local community networks in some districts within North Sumatra, an Indonesian province where I live in currently, that are concerned about improving people’s awareness and providing support to breastfeeding mothers.

Daddies learning the correct positioning for baby’s effective latching at an AyahASI class. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

3. What are some of the things that you have experienced that made you want to get fathers on board?

From my observation, mostly mothers who have appropriate information regarding breastfeeding tend to breastfeed longer, but in other cases, especially those who do not receive support from their husbands during the breastfeeding period may face a lower rate of success. Here, in most regions of Indonesia, culture and customs have been identified as challenges for mothers who want to breastfeed their babies exclusively. Examples such as parents-in-law who are extremely domineering towards new parents, or those who have no prior experiences in caring for babies, and in some cases, new parents were unable to prevent the prelacteal feeding of foods such as honey, sugar, bananas and so on.

In such situations, a husband should be playing this role as guardian for his baby and his wife, rejecting these irrelevant customs, and address his own parents on the family’s decisions. In these circumstances, a new father, who is also a husband, should possess appropriate information so that he can play his role effectively.

In learning about latching and breastfeeding, daddies put aside their shyness in a class atmosphere that promotes learning and brotherhood to encourage fathers to learn as effectively as they can to help their wives better. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

AIMI has chosen to conduct AyahASI (Breastfeeding Dads) classes as a way to provide new dads with the relevant information so that they can help and support their wives while breastfeeding. The classes are delivered in a manner that encourages participation, where every participant will use his experiences as a source of learning and sharing with one another. Simply said, we bring the coffee shop/café environment to the class, where the atmosphere is informal, and the class is delivered by a father just like them.

In the end, fathers who have gained breastfeeding-related knowledge and who are ready to help their wives will be encouraged to share their enlightenment and positivity to other new dads. This has proven to be working well so far.

Daddies prefer a casual and relaxed class atmosphere. Ayah ASI classes encourages openness and honesty in sharing personal experiences, so that participants don’t feel pressured or shy to discuss about breastfeeding openly. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

4. Tell us more about the breastfeeding workshops you conduct for fathers! What are some positive results that you have seen in your community? What are some of the strategies you use to attract more fathers to be better supporters for their breastfeeding wives?

As mentioned before, daddy classes is a way for fathers to improve their knowledge and awareness related to breastfeeding. At this point, we do not intend to equip fathers with skills meant for counselling or that meant for healthcare providers. Instead, we are just improving their awareness, that they know they have a significant role to play in ensuring their wives’ success in breastfeeding their children, particularly during the first six months of a baby’s life.

Apart from making the classes more relaxed, we also encourage fathers to share experiences regardless of whether these are true or false. Hence, the climate of the class is very positive, filled with lots of demonstrations, discussions and jokes, of course. We can say that we bring the coffeeshop culture to class so that dads remain relaxed.

By the end of the workshop, many of them leave feeling that it is possible for them to take a proactive role in supporting their wives and are able to provide them with more attention and ensure that their wives are happy during the breastfeeding period. They fully understand by then that the oxytocin hormone is key to ensuring that the letdown reflex will function optimally.

Despite the casual class atmosphere, fathers take home the real deal; here, dads learn about the symptoms of mastitis and what to look out for to help mums overcome it. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

After all these efforts, we have managed to go beyond father-to-father support between individual dads and we have now created a new community called Ayah ASI Indonesia (Indonesian Breastfeeding Dads). This community will initiate action across the country and create new communities within each province and has become a partner with AIMI in some provinces.

Besides conducting classes, “Ayah ASI Indonesia” has also produced a book called “Catatan Ayah ASI” (Notes of Breastfeeding Dads) written by fathers based on their experiences, including celebrities. This would be helpful for new parents, especially fathers, in preparing their families prior to labour until the targeted period of exclusive breastfeeding.

Recently, in collaboration with UNICEF Indonesia, we have developed a module as part of a national guideline on how communities can conduct breastfeeding classes for fathers. During this year’s World Breastfeeding Week in August, we have successfully conducted many classes for fathers across the country. However, we believe that it is still a work-in-progress and is just a small effort to encourage the public, particularly fathers, wherever they are to take part in supporting their wives and the community to breastfeed their babies.

Breastfeeding support needs to overcome cultural and traditional barriers. Here, an Ayah ASI class was being conducted in a rural fishermen community in an Indonesian province. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

Beyond such projects, we continue to communicate with fathers and the community to discuss these issues through multiple social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and our website. The conversation has to go on.

5. How long do you see yourself as a breastfeeding advocate? What is next in your journey? Do you intend to bring more fathers along in your journey?

I am not sure but I believe this is my call so I will fight for it forever, hopefully. Through AIMI and Ayah ASI Indonesia, I believe that we will not stop at this point. These initiatives should be applied at the community or village levels through the community empowerment method, raising awareness, and then creating local volunteers at the village level to promote and socialise the role of fathers as key to breastfeeding success.

Yes, bringing more fathers will ensure higher success. We will continue to do so.

 

Hery (front, in white) conducting an Ayah ASI class which was featured on national television. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

6. What advice would you give to communities who are trying to engage more fathers to be supporters of breastfeeding?

Since we recognise the father’s role to support the breastfeeding, that is why every community should have a local strategy to recruit a male breastfeeding advocate, even better if he is a trained breastfeeding counsellor. He will be able to play the role as advocate among fathers. Breastfeeding is not only about attachment, positioning, baby’s suckling and so on, but also the need for fathers to receive support through engagement that fathers are familiar and comfortable with. It would be more effective if discussions involving fathers are facilitated by fathers themselves, as they would most probably be on the same frequency. It would also make it easy for fathers to talk about whatever they want and however they want to discuss it. At this point, the methodology involving engagement of fathers should be one of the most important things to be considered.

A compelling tagline for Ayah ASI as a volunteer teaches the class: “Bikinnya Berdua, Ngurus Anaknya Juga Berdua” meaning “Making a baby takes two, therefore caring for the baby should take two, too,” highlighting the fact that responsibility in caring for the child should lie in fathers too. [Credits: Hery Firdaus]

All of what we are doing here is still a process that we believe will contribute to better support from fathers to breastfeeding. This should be an issue made known to the public since it involves the betterment of the next generation.