Our society has seen family dynamics change drastically over the past few decades in terms of gender roles and equality. With women working outside of the home and running their own businesses, we are now seeing shared household responsibilities and/or dads staying home with the kids.

Both parents pitch in with finances, household chores, child-rearing, and other duties. In some families, it takes some adjusting and getting used to, and there are plenty of cases where conflict and resentment rise over roles. Still, this responsibility-sharing lifestyle hasn’t always been so prevalent.

But there are some cultures where it’s been the norm. So much so that men take their fatherly duties to the next level when caring for babies.

One incredible example? The Aka people of central Africa have no qualms about men suckling the little ones if the moms aren’t around!

Don’t be confused. These dads are not breastfeeding their babies with any milk. They simply offer a nipple that provides comfort to a baby when the mother is busy with other activities. Theirs is a society where women assist with hunting and trapping, which is often done side by side with the men.

Anthropologists Barry and Bonnie Hewlett studied the Aka pygmies for years before the turn of the century, and they found that their social structure was egalitarian. In the 1980s, Bonnie Hewlett in particular studied the father-child relationships among the Aka and found the dads to be just as nurturing and playful as the mothers.

She compared the roles of Aka fathers to those of dads in America and some other Western nations, where women have generally been viewed as the emotional bedrocks and/or teachers of the family while men take on dominant – and sometimes emotionally detached – roles.

Of the many things the Hewletts discovered, it was that both Aka parents are highly engaged with the infants. Babies receive constant attention and skin-to-skin contact, and are tended to if hungry or fussing. Because fathers are so attentive with infants at this stage, babies are seldom left uncared for by any member of the village.

As far as the breast-suckling goes, there aren’t any pacifiers in the forests where the Aka live, so flesh is the next best thing. According to the anthropologists’ research, Aka fathers spend 47% of their time caring for their children. Following at a close second are Swedish dads at 45%.

Many parenting experts advocate skin-to-skin and other close forms of contact with babies to nurture strong familial bonds from a young age. We know that parenting techniques like co-sleeping, cry-it-out, and breastfeeding age limits can divide people’s opinions, but you’ve got to love it when papas are hands-on!

As modern society continues to evolve, perhaps the stigma of men being super-involved with childcare will wear off. When it comes to a child feeling the love from their parents, they want it equally and regardless of the parent’s gender.

What are your thoughts on Aka men suckling their babies when moms are unavailable? Do you know a dad that is extremely nurturing and hands-on with the kids? Is your household egalitarian?

Washington State University