The hormonal changes mothers experience during pregnancy and while raising children are well-known. But now, new research is being produced showing the changes expecting and new fathers experience.
In the last month, two new studies were released that suggest men experience hormonal changes similar to women throughout the parenting process.
The first study was published on December 15 in the American Journal of Human Biology. Robin Edelstein, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and her team examined 29 expectant heterosexual couples that were expecting their first child together. At four different points during the pregnancy – weeks 12, 20, 28 and 36 – they evaluated salivary testosterone, cortisol, estradiol and progesterone.
They found all four of the hormones increased in women while men showed considerable declines in the levels of testosterone and estradiol, but their levels of cortisol and progesterone remained constant.
The study was small in nature and thus difficult to generalize the results or analyze what effect they have on men, but one idea stemming from the research is that men with lower testosterone would be better caregivers as they would be less aggressive.
The second study, which was performed by researchers from Yale University and published in Social Neuroscience, looked at how new fathers’ brains change as they bond with their child.
The researchers scanned the brains of 16 university-educated professionals at different stages of their child’s life. They discovered that becoming a father spurs significant brain chemistry changes that result in them becoming more motherly. Some of the changes result in the new father becoming better at multitasking, more emotionally responsive, and more perceptive to their child’s needs.
The study concludes: “These early father-infant interactions and emotional bonding become the basis of the father-infant attachment, which has a long-lasting impact on cognitive functions and social attachment for offspring.”
Although both studies are interesting, neither produced groundbreaking results and more research will need to be produced before generalizations can be made. However, as the National Parents Organization pointed out in this blog post, the results are still important for a couple of reasons.
First, researchers are acknowledging that biochemical changes do occur in fathers similarly to how they do in mothers. As more studies like these are produced, we should gain a better understanding of what new fathers experience throughout the pregnancy and parenting processes.
From a public policy standpoint, this shows it is important for new and expecting fathers to be allowed near the mother of their child to enable them to undergo those hormonal changes that make them more biochemically suitable for parenting.
It is well-documented that children with two parents have distinct advantages. Therefore, from a physiological perspective, it is in the best interest of the child for their fathers to experience the changes that can only occur when around the expectant mother or young child. When a mother refuses to grant access to the father or keeps the pregnancy a secret, she damages the father’s parental development, which in turn harms the child.
Further research on the biochemical changes fathers experience will likely be conducted in the coming years. At the very least, that is an encouraging development.