Women Breastfeeding Husband After Baby: Research Reveals Ugandan Men Love To Drink Breastmilk
In Uganda, many men believe that women's breast milk has magical and healing powers. They drink breast milk, and their wives daren't refuse them.
The practice of a womanbreastfeeding husband after baby may be a niche fetish, but it is not uncommon in the nation of Uganda. Abbo's* husband likes breast milk. “He says he likes the taste of it, and that it helps him in terms of his health. He feels good afterward,” said the 20-year-old from Uganda, who has a six-month-old baby. Abbo said her husband started asking for her milk the night she came home from the hospital after giving birth. “He said it was to help me with the milk flow. I felt it was OK.”
Abbo's husband is only one of many Ugandan men who insist on nursing from their wives' breasts. The practice is also common in parts of Tanzania and Kenya. It is now being linked to gender violence and coercive behaviour, and there are concerns over its impact on babies’ nutrition.
The world knew very little about this strange practice, until recently. Uganda’s minister of state for health, Sarah Opendi, broke the silence in parliament in 2018. She warned against “a growing culture of men demanding to suckle; which was becoming a problem for some breastfeeding mothers and their babies”.
She went on to describe the reasons why many men claim they need the milk, saying "men are part of the problem during breastfeeding. A mother is breastfeeding, you also want something on the other side, saying that it can cure HIV/Aids, cancer, male dysfunction. It is a myth."
Researchers Take On The Practice Of Husbands Breastfeeding After Baby
The possible reasons for the practice and its resulting effects, has birthed the first preliminary study into the phenomenon. Kyambogo University in Kampala and Britain’s University of Kent are the conductors of this research. The study also enjoys the support of the Global Challenges Research Fund.
“It was very much an exploratory mission," said Dr. Rowena Merrit. She is a British behavioral scientist who specializes in public health, and the lead researcher on the project. "We didn’t know if we would find anybody willing to talk to us who admitted to doing it. We didn’t even really know if it was real or not,” she said.
The study focused on the rural Buikwe district, in the central region, where the behaviour is reportedly common.
As part of the study, researchers made anonymous interviews with four motorcycle "boda boda" taxi drivers in a rural district. They told researchers that they had "never talked about it" but said it gave them energy.
"It sustains me, I come home for lunch and it relieves stress in the middle of the working day," said one.
They also used it as a way of initiating sex, even with partners who had just given birth. Another subject told researchers: "When breastfeeding, I feel like I'm being looked after like a child, and this becomes addictive. I feel like a prince."
The preliminary research suggested that men often drink before the child is fed; usually, once a day, sometimes more frequently, and for about an hour at a time.“There is a belief in some communities that breast milk has energizing and curative powers, even curing diseases such as HIV and Aids and cancer,” said Dr. Peter Rukundo, a senior lecturer at Kyambogo University who assisted with the research.
Breastfeeding Husband After Baby: The Women Don't Have Much Of A Say In The Matter
Women did not seem to have much choice in the matter ofbreastfeeding husband after baby. “It appears to be a hugely coerced behaviour from the people we spoke to,” added Merritt. When asked what might happen if she said no, one woman replied: “I fear that my husband might go elsewhere if I wouldn’t let it happen.”
The behaviour has been linked to gender-based violence in the Karamoja region in north-east Uganda. “The principal nutritionist has claimed that it is a common practice there in the form of violence; that when the men got drunk some went for the breasts forcefully,” said Rukundo.
Health professionals, including midwives and nutritionists, told researchers about cases where babies had to settle for formula milk because partners wanted breast milk. There were also cases where women came to the clinic with infected or bitten nipples caused by a man suckling. The practice also comes with many risks to babies of cross-infection from the man’s saliva.
“There is a gap in public awareness of the risks in such practices. But the challenge is we don’t have the evidence of the magnitude of this behaviour. We need a survey on prevalence,” said Rukundo.
He also called on government and development partners to work together to mitigate harm. “We don’t have any clear message or deliberate effort, despite the health minister saying the issue is there. So, in a way, it is denial. If they remain silent, the issue will remain underground,” he said.
Merritt added: “The fear for me, is the longer that this continues it will become part of the culture and tradition for the next generation. I see parallels with FGM.”