Perceived conflicts in desire to delay first birth in Nepal

In Nepal, as in other parts of South Asia, it is considered the norm for couples to begin having children immediately after marriage. Newly married couples often report feeling pressured to have children early in their marriage by family members and societal standards. It’s important to allow for delaying having children if that’s what couples want. Very early marriage and childbearing have been associated with adverse neonatal outcomes and maternal complications. Delaying childbearing can also allow young women the opportunity to continue their education and to participate in the labor force if desired.

While previous research from Nepal has focused on the pressure women in these settings often feel, few studies have ben conducted among newly married couples about their joint fertility desires. Few studies have included men’s and other family members’ perspectives on childbearing. New research aims to fill in this gap by investigating fertility desires and childbearing among newly married couples in Nepal.

In order to explore the nature of fertility decision making within the households of newly married couples in Nepal, researchers conducted interviews of newly married women, their husbands, and their mothers-in-law. In Nepal, women typically live in their husband’s households and their mothers-in-law are at the top of the hierarchical family network, exercising authority over their daughters-in-law for pregnancy and reproductive health decisions. They found that most newly married couples actually wanted to delay having their first child, most often for financial reasons, but had not communicated with each other about this. As one interviewed woman said, “Well, whom should I talk with? My husband is always busy.” This lack of communication led to misunderstandings about childbearing desires and perceived conflicting desires when in most cases, husbands’ and wives’ desires were actually the same. While some mothers-in-law supported delaying childbearing to allow their daughter-in-law to mature or continue her education, they also felt a strong societal pressure to encourage early childbearing. This pressure was also felt by newly married women and their husbands.

These findings suggest that newly married women, their husbands, and, in some cases, even their mothers-in-law are interested in delaying having children; however, newly married women often feel massive pressure from their husband, family and community. This suggests that, despite perceptions of norms for immediate childbearing after marriage, there may be a window to delay first birth and to respond to individual desires of newly married couples.

Family planning programs should specifically provide contraceptives to newly married couples, engage all household members, and work with efforts to increase couples’ and household communication about these topics. These programs should also address community-level norms If more people were aware that their family members, friends, neighbors and community leaders also had less traditional views about delaying the first child, it might open the door for newly married couples to make that decision.