A father’s nipple is perfectly suited to soothing a crying baby until it can be fed, according to a major report published for Fathers’ Day (June 19) on fatherhood across five continents, which identifies the world’s best dads.
FatherWorld, published by Fathers Direct, the UK national information centre on fatherhood, details a worldwide increase in active fathering. It names as “Best Dads in the World” the Aka Pygmies, a hunter-gatherer tribe from northern Congo, in central Africa. When the mother is not available, the father calms his baby by giving him a nipple to suck.
Aka Pygmy men do more infant care-giving than fathers in any other known society, finds the report. On average, they hold or are within arms’ reach of their infants 47 per cent of the time. They beat Swedish dads, the number ones in the Western world, who average 45 per cent of parental childcare. In typical British families, dads now average a third of the parental childcare, according to latest research from the Equal Opportunities Commission. Worldwide, fathers are estimated in today’s report to contribute between a quarter and a third as much time as women to direct childcare. However, FatherWorld, springing from a week-long summit at Oxford University of the world’s academic experts on fatherhood, reports that, of 156 cultures studied, only 20 per cent promote men’s close relationships with infants, and only 5 per cent with young children.
Aka fathers often take the child along when they go drinking palm wine. They may hold the baby close to their bodies for a couple of hours at a time, says the report which highlights findings by Barry Hewlett, an American anthropologist, who has studied the tribe for more than 20 years. The dads, rather than mums, are often the ones who settle the babies if they wake at night.
Sebastian Kraemer, child psychiatrist at London’s Whittington Hospital, said: “It is possible that, in prehistoric societies, this was a normal way of fathering. We should not assume from 10,000 years of history that our prevailing model is the right one.”
Caroline Flint, former President of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “I have come across cases of dads doing this. It’s not a case of the man saying to the baby, ‘Here you are, have my boobie,’ but usually of the baby snuffling along the father’s chest, finding the nipple and sucking. The men are usually very surprised, but the babies seem content. They love to snuggle up to their dads.”
Wayne Hemingway, designer and father of four, said: “I’m not sure I could be an Aka Pygmy dad. Placing nipper on the nipple could be a big challenge to the British male. Ray Mears should take a group of British dads and their babies out to the Congo for a couple of weeks to meet the Aka Pygmies and see what our dads can manage. But I am one dad who won’t be trying it out.”