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Introduction of solid foods before the recommended age of 4–6 months is a common practice in the USA, and appears to be especially prevalent among infants who are enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Currently, little is known about how fathers influence early infant feeding decisions, outside the decision to breast- or formula-feed. The purpose of the current study was to explore how fathers perceive the role they play in feeding and caring for their infants.
Participants were twenty-one male caregivers, who were fathers or partners of the mothers of WIC income-eligible infants residing in two rural East Tennessee counties. In-depth, audio-taped telephone interviews were completed. Interviews were transcribed, coded and analysed according to standard grounded theory procedures to identify emergent concepts. These concepts were explored and linked together to become themes.
Three themes emerged: (i) fathers’ roles; (ii) fathers’ perceptions; and (iii) control. Concepts within the theme of fathers’ roles included physical and emotional support for both mother and infant, validation of maternal decisions, and financial support. In the present study, fathers’ perceptions were primarily shaped by their own experiences, advice from those with experience, and information sought by the fathers. The theme of control appears to be the linkage between the fathers’ attempts to modify infant behaviour and infants’ response.
A final conceptual model was created to explain the interrelated nature of the themes and may be helpful to those who work with fathers and/or families of new infants.
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