Researchers at the University of Oxford studied 192 families in the UK to see whether there was a link between early father-newborn interactions had the infant’s behavior. They found that children whose fathers were more positively engaged with them at three months exhibited fewer behavioral problems by their first birthday.
Studies on the impact of early formative connections tend to focus on the role of the mother. According to Science Daily, this is the first time father-infant interactions have been looked at in this context.
“We found that children whose fathers were more engaged in the interactions had better outcomes, with fewer subsequent behavioral problems,” explains Dr. Paul Ramchandani, lead researcher and clinical psychiatrist at Imperial College London, “At the other end of the scale, children tended to have greater behavioral problems when their fathers were more remote and lost in their own thoughts or when their fathers interacted less with them. This association tended to be stronger for boys than for girls, suggesting that perhaps boys are more susceptible to the influence of their father from a very early age.
“We don’t yet know whether the fathers being more remote and disengaged are actually causing the behavioral problems in the children, but it does raise the possibility that these early interactions are important.”
Researchers are not sure what’s at work here. They speculate that maybe dad’s lack of engagement reflects bigger problems in the family relationships, the kind that can undermine positive connection. Or maybe dad’s behavior suggests a general lack of care/supervision for the infant and that’s what’s causing the problems. It may be that the ‘behavioral problems’ detected at 12 months are actually the infant’s attempt to elicit a stronger response from a distant care-provider.
Dr. Ramchandani adds: “As every parent knows, raising a child is not an easy task. Our research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that intervening early to help parents can make a positive impact on how their infant develops.”
All this makes me think of another study about dads and babies. It showed lowered testosterone and higher levels of oxytocin (the bonding or “cuddle” hormone) in dads who spent a lot of time with their newborns. In fact, the more time dad spent holding and caring for his baby the higher the oxytocin in his blood– it peaked at about five months postpartum.
I think sometimes mothers and fathers can both benefit from understanding just how primed men are to care for and generally go goo-goo over their newborns. I’ve seen some dads in a pure stupor of affection over their kids and others who don’t get quite as involved because it’s assumed mom is primary. While she is certainly the one with the milk the bond between a baby and other primary caregivers is ripe for the cultivating. This applies to dads and other care-givers or ‘allomothers.’ One take away from this study might be: give that baby to daddy.
This study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
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