According to a paper recently published in The Journal Hormones and Behavior, mothers are not the only ones who experience big hormonal changes. When researchers looked at the brain chemistry of fathers of young babies, they found they’d been temporarily rewired to feel more empathy.
The hormones responsible are oxytocin and prolactin—both are high in breastfeeding mothers, and both are related to bonding and empathy. Recently I wrote about how testosterone drops in new fathers, while prolactin goes up. This new data confirms and extends that research.
The trigger for a hormonal change in men is thought to be close contact with the baby. There was a correlation between time spent with the newborn and increased bonding hormones in fathers.
I’ve heard midwife Ina May Gaskin speak about non-mothers experiencing a surge in oxytocin due to close, empathetic contact with an infant. Gaskin spoke of instances where female caregivers– including grandmothers and women who have never given birth—got such a burst of hormones they actually started to lactate. It’s rare, but possible.
Amazing what babies can do to a person.
In their paper, Ruth Feldman, a neuroscientist at Yale University, and her colleagues write, “It is possible that as the father’s daily encounters with his infant increase, hand in hand with the infant’s growing social skills from the second to the sixth month of life, the prolactin and oxytocin systems reorganize and create new connections.”
“This seems to be evolution’s way of helping men turn into good parents as soon as they have a baby,” said Feldman to The Sunday Times of London.
This is not all that surprising to those of us who’ve been there and done that—have you seen a new dad turn to mush playing with his baby? It’s quite a sight.
But these studies can be reassuring to those expecting fathers out there who haven’t spent time with many, if any, babies and who may worry, How will I pull this off!??? If this sounds familiar, don’t worry, your endocrine system has you covered.