The importance of paternity leave

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UPTOWN dad_holding_baby_daughterKenyan fathers have been encouraged to take paternity leave after their child is born so as to increase father engagement and bonding with their new born.

"Longer leaves mean fathers have more time to bond with a new child and will be more involved in caring for their children right from the start," said an article published by the United States department of labour on why paternal leaves are important for working families. "These hands-on engagement can set a pattern even when the leave ends."

According to the Kenyan constitution, fathers are given two weeks of paternity leave but what are they for given that most of the baby care is left to the mother?

"When my wife gave birth to our first child two years ago, I took the paternity leave," said Simon Wafula, an accountant at a law firm. "I thought it was a clever way for me to get off work but it turned out my wife needed me more than I knew.

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" I would do the house chores as she took care of the baby and given that she needed more rest than I did,I cuddled the baby when she woke up crying in the middle of the night."

According to the article, increased engagement by the father leads to improved health and development outcomes for children.This includes behavioural problems, improved cognitive and mental health problems.

" This is because in most families, the care of the children is left to the mothers while the disciplining is for the fathers," said Cynthia Kilonzi, a paediatrician at a private clinic. "Fathers are considered the firm hands so in a family where the role of the father has been established, the children are more likely to be more disciplined or rather behaved in school, at home and even the playground compared to a home with an absentee father."

Fathers taking paternity leave also help their wives ease into their new roles as mothers.

"It is not easy especially for first time mothers, " said Dr. Kilonzi."Having your spouse's help is good encouragement as they take up the new responsibility and also helps prevent postpartum depression which is mostly caused by the overwhelming pressure of being a new mother."

"It is a good feeling when your husband is there for you after you give birth, " says Janet Wairimu, a mother of two. "When I gave birth to my second through a caesarean section, I was not able to lift her because I was recovering from the surgery . But my husband was there and was hands-on and was involved in everything letting me know it was not my pain but our pain."

While the bulk of childcare is still left to the mothers, the role of the fathers in the baby's life after birth is as critical as the mother's.

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