The Science behind Dads
Being a mother is a very natural thing to do. Changes in hormones, changes in the body, and rewiring in the brain all help prepare a woman for childbirth and life after. But we now know that becoming a dad also changes your brain and body in some ways.
We used to say that "mums were born to be parents, but dads had to learn how to be parents". Of course, we now know that both men and women go through the same changes in their bodies that help them get ready to be parents. But there is still a lot to learn!
Here are some of the scientific facts we know about being a Dad and navigating the world of parenthood:
It can feel like a hormonal roller coaster to be a mum, but it seems like dads have their ride.
From hooking up to having kids
The hormone that makes a man a man is a testosterone. But research has shown that when a man becomes a parent for the first time, his testosterone levels drop and never go back to where they were before the birth.
This change aims to get men to focus less on mating, which is easier when they have high testosterone and more on parenting.
Studies have shown that fathers whose testosterone levels are lower, are more caring. They understand their little one's needs better and are more likely to respond quickly when they cry.
Getting the team of parents ready
Oxytocin is one of the main hormones that help people get close to each other. It also starts contractions and milk production. Men also have oxytocin, and studies have shown that oxytocin levels match up if a man lives with his pregnant partner.
This seems to bring them closer together and prepare them to work together as a team when the little one arrives. Also, having a child can make your relationship with your partner easier the closer you are to them.
This hormone, oxytocin, is released when children interact with their parents. But, did you know that the activity that makes the most oxytocin for both parent and child depends on whether the child is with their mum or dad?
When a dad and his child play together, their oxytocin levels go up. This is why it seems like dads would rather play than take care of their children and why kids tend to seek them out as playmates. So, even though dad is sometimes called the "fun" parent, he wants to play with his children for a good reason!
This doesn't mean caring for their baby doesn't give dads a chemical reward. It doesn't get as much attention as a good game of rough and tumble.
A changed brain
We know that when a woman has her first child, her brain changes significantly. Studies are done recently show that the same is true for dad. In some key areas, the neurons and the connections between them (grey and white matter) are growing. These have to do with caring for and spotting threats and those who solve problems and make plans. These are skills that every parent needs.
The unique Dad brain
There are also some differences between how mum and dad use the essential parts of their brains when they are with their kids. Both parents use empathy-related parts of their brains in the same way. That means parents can understand and meet their child's emotional and practical needs.
Did you know that the other brain area where mums have the most activity is in the middle? It involves caring for others, showing affection, and recognising danger.
So, how about brain activity for dads? Dad's peak of brain activity is in the outer part of the brain, called the neocortex, and it has to do with skills related to social interaction and pushing limits.
Experts think these differences show how men and women divide their responsibilities. This means that their roles are different and don't just duplicate each other. Each parent has a unique and vital role in how their little one grows up.
But what happens when we don't have parents of each sex? Studies of homosexual fathers who take care of their children full-time have shown that the human brain can change. So both dads have peaks in both mum's and dad's parts of the brain, which means they are ready to do both jobs!
No more a wild party animal
Becoming a parent isn't a single moment but a time of change. Your psychology, especially your sense of who you are and how you see yourself, will change significantly during this time.
Studies have shown that when a man becomes a father, the outgoing part of his personality gets smaller. This means that he is more likely to spend less time out with friends and more time with his family.
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