How regularly changing diapers can give dads a “parenting brain”

Father’s Day: What makes somebody a father? Frequently performing caregiving tasks can change your brain in a way that helps you to be a good parent to your child.

This post is also available in Dutch.

The ads for aftershave, tools, barbecues, and other so-called ‘guy things’ are everywhere as Father’s Day is just around the corner. Fortunately, despite these stereotypes in commercials, we know that you don’t have to be a father to use a drill. In addition, not all fathers enjoy getting a barbecue apron and a bottle of craft beer. What fathers do have in common are the brain changes that make them better parents. Although this mainly has to do with how involved parents are in care tasks and not so much with their gender.

Brain regions, hormones, and attachment

Studies show that the hormone balance and the size of certain brain areas change in men who become fathers. In both new fathers and mothers, the amount of oxytocin increases. Oxytocin is also known as the “cuddle hormone” and is important for parent-child bonding. This goes hand in hand with growth in areas of the brain that play a role in attachment and functions like planning. On the other hand, the volume of brain areas linked to stress, anxiety, and daydreaming decreases in new fathers.

The importance of being involved

In biological mothers, many hormonal and neural changes are already set in motion by pregnancy, but what causes these changes in fathers? This probably has to do with how involved they are in parenting. Researchers suggest: the more caregiving tasks a parent takes on, the stronger the activity and connections in the “global parental caregiving network“. In short: this network connects brain areas that make you better at picking up social and emotional signals from people around you. The stronger this brain network and the oxytocin increase, the better parents understand their baby’s needs

The researchers found that these effects are not only present in biological mothers and fathers but are just as valid for homosexual fathers of adopted babies. So whether you can be a good parent for your baby does not depend on your gender, sexuality, or genetic connection to your child; for good parental intuition and parent-child bonding, you can train your brain by taking on many the caregiving tasks. So remember that the next time you are changing your baby’s leaking diaper.

Author: Maartje Koot

Buddy: Judith Scholing

Editor: Felix Klaassen

Translation: Helena Olraun

Editor translation: Ping Chen

Picture by  OPPO, Find X5 Pro via unsplash.com

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