How a New Father’s Brain Changes : Dad’s mental shifts are different from mom’s


By Esther Landhuis | Aug 13, 2015

The birth of a child leaves its mark on the brain. Most investigations of these changes have focused on mothers, but scientists have recently begun looking more closely at fathers. Neural circuits that support parental behaviors appear more robust in moms a few weeks after the baby is born, whereas in dads the growth can take several months.

A study in Social Neuroscience analyzed 16 dads several weeks after their baby’s birth and again a few months later. At each check, the researchers administered a multiple-choice test to check for signs of depression and used MRI to image the brain. Compared with the earlier scans, MRI at three to four months postpartum showed growth in the hypothalamus, amygdala and other regions that regulate emotion, motivation and decision making. Furthermore, dads with more growth in these brain areas were less likely to show depressive symptoms, says first author Pilyoung Kim, who directs the Family and Child Neuroscience Lab at the University of Denver.

Although some physiological brain changes are similar in new moms and dads, other changes seem different and could relate to the roles of each parent, says senior author James Swain, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan (brain diagrams below).

A 2014 behavioral study of expectant fathers showed that midpregnancy ultrasound imaging was a “magic moment” in the dads’ emerging connection with their baby. Yet the emotional bond was different than it is in expectant moms. Instead of thinking about cuddling or feeding the baby, dads-to-be focused on the future: they imagined saving money for a college fund or walking down the aisle at their daughter’s wedding.

“It was interesting how little dads’ images centered on an infant,” says psychologist Tova Walsh of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who led the study. “I didn’t hear dads talk about putting the baby down for a nap or changing diapers.”

Click to enlarge. Credit: © ISTOCK.COM

Parenting rewires men’s brains.

What does all this research mean? I’ll make it simple: Men make good parents too 🙂

From Abraham et al., interesting material on a global “parental caregiving” neural network in our brains:

Although contemporary socio-cultural changes dramatically increased fathers’ involvement in childrearing, little is known about the brain basis of human fatherhood, its comparability with the maternal brain, and its sensitivity to caregiving experiences. We measured parental brain response to infant stimuli using functional MRI, oxytocin, and parenting behavior in three groups of parents (n = 89) raising their firstborn infant: heterosexual primary-caregiving mothers (PC-Mothers), heterosexual secondary-caregiving fathers (SC-Fathers), and primary-caregiving homosexual fathers (PC-Fathers) rearing infants without maternal involvement. Results revealed that parenting implemented a global “parental caregiving” neural network, mainly consistent across parents, which integrated functioning of two systems: the emotional processing network including subcortical and paralimbic structures associated with vigilance, salience, reward, and motivation, and mentalizing network involving frontopolar-medial-prefrontal and temporo-parietal circuits implicated in social understanding and cognitive empathy. These networks work in concert to imbue infant care with emotional salience, attune with the infant state, and plan adequate parenting. PC-Mothers showed greater activation in emotion processing structures, correlated with oxytocin and parent-infant synchrony, whereas SC-Fathers displayed greater activation in cortical circuits, associated with oxytocin and parenting. PC-Fathers exhibited high amygdala activation similar to PC-Mothers, alongside high activation of superior temporal sulcus (STS) comparable to SC-Fathers, and functional connectivity between amygdala and STS. Among all fathers, time spent in direct childcare was linked with the degree of amygdala-STS connectivity. Findings underscore the common neural basis of maternal and paternal care, chart brain–hormone–behavior pathways that support parenthood, and specify mechanisms of brain malleability with caregiving experiences in human fathers.


The Importance of the Father/Child Bond

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

One of the most magical moments of my life was being at the birth of
my child. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I remember
watching him squirm and cry as he met the world. I remember how he
paused to listen to my voice as I whispered my love for him and
commitment to him. To this day, spending time with my kids continues
to be one of my favorite activities. To not spend time with my
children is unfathomable.

For many fathers, this isn’t the case. They sit in hospital waiting
rooms, clapping each other on the back and congratulating one another
on a job well done, while their child enters the world without their
father next to them. The day after the delivery and every day after
are filled with missed opportunities to bond with their child and
influence the directions they will take in life. They rationalize
that they are sacrificing for their family by working long hours and
justify their emotional distance as modeling how to survive in
the “cold, cruel world.” Food on the table and a roof over head is
nice but nothing makes up for loving, nurturing relationships with
one’s father.

How do fathers build this bond? What barriers stand in the way? And,
what are some practical tools to help fathers strengthen their
children intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically? To
help me answer these questions, I asked for advice from dad’s who
have a close bond with their children. How do I know they have a
close bond? I asked their wives! What’s more, these wives are
webmasters of active parenting and family oriented websites.

How do you bond with your child?

In response to this question, all of the fathers answered alike. They
stated that the best way to bond was simply to spend time with a
child. What you do is not as important as doing something.

They divided activities up into four main areas: Physical,
Intellectual, Social, and Spiritual. A balance of these four areas
would result in a child having a happier, healthier life. Physical
activities are the most familiar to fathers and include working
around the house together, sharing a hobby, coaching an athletic
team, exercising together, and going places together.
Intellectual activities focus on being involved in a child’s
academics, participating in school related activities, encouraging
hard work, and modeling yourself as a their primary teacher of life.
Social activities centered on talking with children, sharing feelings
and thoughts, demonstrating appropriate affection and manners, and
getting to know your child’s friends. Spiritual activities are used
the least by dad’s but have the most power to influence a child.
These activities incorporate reading spiritual stories together,
going to church or the synagogue, praying with children, establishing
rules and order, being consistent and available, and exploring the
mysteries of nature.

What is difference between the father/child bond and the mother/child

It was quickly apparent from the surveys that dad’s have a different
approach or style to bonding than mom’s. Dad’s have a more rough and
tumble approach to physical interaction or may spend time in more
physical activities such as play or working on a project together.
Competition was also seen more in father/child bonding and was
considered healthy if used in small doses and with sensitivity to a
child’s temperament and abilities. Sportsmanship, but not necessary
sports activities, was regarded as an essential ingredient in the
development of a child’s characters. While the approach may differ,
the need for bonding with mom and dad is equally significant. One dad
joked that other than a couple of biological differences (e.g.,
giving birth or breastfeeding) he couldn’t see one as more important
than the other.

What barriers prevent fathers from achieving a bond with their child?

All of the fathers agreed that work and the mismanagement of time
were the biggest robbers of relationships with children. No one
discounted a father’s responsibility to provide for his family, but
all of them maintained that a healthy balance is needed between work
and family. They felt that society makes it easy to use one’s career
as an escape. Social influences tend to value the bond a child has
with mom to be more important than with dad. But none of the dad’s
questioned felt this barrier to be insurmountable.

Eliminating barriers in society begins in the home. Dads must
demonstrate that being involved in the home is important to them
before society will start treating dads as important to the home.
Dads need to take the initiative to change a diaper, clean up after
dinner, give the kids their bath, and do the laundry. The collective
effect of these “small” acts will ripple out into society to
create “bigger” change.

Can a father bond with a child if they did not have a father growing

The entire group affirmed that not having a father would make it more
difficult but not impossible to bond with a child. According to one
dad, bonding is more of an innate need or spiritual drive, than
simply a learned behavior. Therefore, fatherless fathers are not
doomed to repeat their own childhood experiences. Another dad
suggested “getting excited” by the little things that make a child
excited or happy. Getting down on the child’s level, regressing to
those early moments in life when you were a child, and sharing simple
pleasures with your child will foster the bonding missed the first
time around.

In summary, it is clear that the bond between a father and a child is
an important one. Barriers, such as social values and absent fathers
make bonding with children difficult but not impossible. Children
need the unique style of bonding that fathers can provide and fathers
can build that bond by spending time engaging in physical,
intellectual, social, and spiritual activities.

Fathers Can Teach Their Children Persistence: Study

FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) – Children learn persistence from their fathers, according to a new study, and this skill can lead to better performance at school and a reduced risk of criminal behavior.

The study included adolescents aged 11 to 14 in 325 two-parent families; they were followed for several years by researchers from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

About 52 percent of the fathers in the study exhibited above-average levels of authoritative parenting. The children of these fathers were significantly more likely to develop persistence, which led to better outcomes at school and lower levels of delinquency.

The findings were published June 15 in the Journal of Early Adolescence.

“There are relatively few studies that highlight the unique role of fathers,” study co-author Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor in BYU’s School of Family Life, said in a university news release. “This research also helps to establish that traits such as persistence – which can be taught – are key to a child’s life success.”

The researchers emphasized that authoritative parenting is different from authoritarian parenting and has three basic features: children feel warmth and love from their father; children are granted an appropriate level of autonomy; and fathers emphasize accountability and the reasons behind rules.

Although this study included two-parent families, the researchers suggested that single parents may still be able to help teach their children about persistence.

“Fathers should continue to be involved in their children’s lives and engage in high-quality interactions, even if the quantity of those interactions might be lower than is desirable,” Padilla-Walker said.

Dads Who Do Diapers

Although many fathers today spend more time with children than was the case in the past, physical care of young children remains primarily mothers’ work. Yet some fathers claim that they do work traditionally seen as the “mother’s job” every day. Using subsample data from the male respondent file of the National Survey of Family Growth 2002 (n = 613), this study examines factors associated with married or cohabiting fathers’ daily involvement in physical care of children under age 5 years. Logistic regression results show that daily involvement is more likely if fathers were raised by their biological fathers, received more education, have employed wives or partners, have a young male child, or receive public assistance; it is less likely if they have school-age children. This study suggests that paternal involvement in physical care of young children is shaped by multiple factors including childhood experiences, education, economic conditions, and current family context.

Ron Huxley Remembers: I was one of those very involved fathers who attended the child birth classes, got up for the bottle feedings at 2 a.m. and changed diapers. Many dad’s don’t, even in modern society. It still seems to remain largely the mothers role to take care of new babies. Dad’s who do diapers depend on several factors, according to this research, including how they were raised, their temperament, and their economic status.

How involved was your father or the father of your children in the care taking of your children? Click reply below or post on our Facebook page your response:


Unruly kids? Don’t spank or scream

Do you ever swat your child on the behind? Let’s hope not. Over the past few
decades, numerous studies have concluded that spanking isn’t the best or most
effective way to discipline a child successfully. But when your kids
misbehave, don’t replace spanking with yelling. New research shows that
screaming loudly at children may also harm them. So what can parents do when
their kids become unruly, especially with the summer vacation months upon us
and children spending more time at home?

Read the full story on Live: