Most dads would agree that having a child completely changed their life. Did you know that it also changed their brains? Studies have shown that a father’s contact with his newborn child actually rewires the brain and stimulates the creation of more neurons. These neurons are specialized to help the father bond with and care for his child. The bond between mother and child is sort of a given. The mother carries the child during gestation and then in most cases provides nourishment through breast milk. Women are to some extent pre-wired for parenthood. It seems, however, that men do not come with a built-in mechanism for taking care of children. In an August 2010 issue, Scientific American reported that studies of the brains of male rats revealed that scent and physical connection with newborn rats,or pups, actually caused the creation of new neurons in the brain. If the male rat was separated from the pups in the cage by a mesh barrier, this neurogenesis did not occur. Further study showed that the father’s physical contact with the pups affected their neurodevelopment as well. It seems that children are born with neural connections in the brain that anticipate bonding with the father. If that contact does not happen, those connections die off. So, the bonding between dad and newborn has a direct impact on both of their brains.
In addition to the growth of neurons and neuronal pathways, the hormone levels of men are affected by pregnancy and birth. In her book The Male Brain, Dr. Brizendine devotes a whole chapter to “The Daddy Brain”. In this chapter, she discusses the hormonal changes that happen in a dad even before the baby is born. According to studies, fathers-to-be experience a reduction in testosterone levels and an increase in prolactin. Prolactin is the same hormone that is responsible for milk production in mothers. The shift in male hormonal levels is believed to be a result of pheromones that are secreted by the pregnant mother. We often joke about fathers having a “sympathetic pregnancy” if they gain weight or have strange cravings, but Couvade Syndrome is real. It actually helps prep the expectant father for parenting. After the child is born and the learning process of being a parent continues, the father brain will continue to change and adapt based on his connection and experience with the child. All of these changes in the “daddy brain” are just another great example of the brain’s amazing ability to grow and adapt.
Check out all the brainy items for your Cool Dad here!