It is accepted as the norm that couples in South Asia begin childbearing immediately after marriage and that, even if they would like to delay, they are pressured to have children by household members. Little research, however, has explored the desire to delay childbearing among newly married couples and their household members in Nepal—a setting with changing marriage formation patterns, increasing women's education and falling fertility.
To explore the dynamics of current childbearing desires, in-depth interviews of 20 intact triads of newly married women, their husbands and their mothers-in-law were conducted in one district of Nepal in February-March 2017. Using thematic analysis, interviews were read and coded separately by type (wives, husbands, mothers-in-law), and then the triads were read together and coded to determine household-level patterns and themes.
Most newly married women and men want to delay their first birth, but have not communicated with each other about this. Even though couples are often in agreement about delaying, they feel pressured by in-laws and society to bear children early. Contrary to expectations, some mothers-in-law support delaying childbearing to allow their daughter-in-law to mature, continue her education or earn wages; however, they too perceive societal pressure. Male migration for work also contributes to early childbearing pressure.
Helping couples to sort through conflicting fertility norms and desires may be important to delay childbearing when desired. Programs should engage all household members, and work to increase couples' and household communication to address misperceptions about fertility desires.
Nadia Diamond-Smith is assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Institute for Global Health Sciences; Noemi Plaza is a medical student, Department of Medicine; Sheri D. Weiser is associate professor, Department of Medicine; and Cynthia C. Harper is professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology—all at the University of California, San Francisco, USA. Mahesh Puri is director of research, and Minakshi Dahal is program manager—both at the Center for Research on Environment, Health and Population Activities, Kathmandu, Nepal.