How a man's brain changes after becoming a father. The results of the study

Anna BoklajukNews
Scientists have discovered how a man's brain changes after becoming a father. Source: freepik.com

Does fatherhood make the heart stronger and the brain smaller? Several studies have shown that the brain loses volume after becoming a parent.

In a new study that examined changes in the brains of first-time parents, experts found that brain volume loss was associated with greater involvement in parenting, as well as greater sleep problems and mental health symptoms. These results may point to the costs of care, which have traditionally fallen on women, but increasingly on men, The Conversation writes.

Caring for an infant requires new motivations and skills, so it is not surprising that it can also affect the brain. Studies on rodents first revealed a restructuring of both brain structure and function during pregnancy and parenthood. The new study also found similar effects in men.

How a man's brain changes after becoming a father. The results of the study

Most research on the brains of fathers has focused on women, but new evidence suggests that similar brain changes may occur in new fathers. Researchers have previously found a loss of brain volume in men transitioning to fatherhood in similar parts of the brain to those of mothers. However, it is worth noting that men showed less statistically significant brain changes than women.

Fathers vary in how much they invest in childcare, so as a next step, the researchers wanted to know how men's brains change as they transition into their fatherhood experience.

To test this question, the experts studied 38 men in California before and after the birth of a child. During his wife's pregnancy and three, six, and 12 months after the birth, the researchers asked the fathers how they felt about their babies and how they slept. They also asked about symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

As before, the researchers observed significant brain differences between the prenatal and postpartum periods throughout the cortex, the brain's outer layer that performs many higher-order functions such as language, memory, problem solving, and decision making. On average, men in the sample lost about 1% of their gray matter volume during the transition to fatherhood.

How a man's brain changes after becoming a father. The results of the study

According to the study, the decrease in men's brain volume is indeed related to involvement in parenting. If men felt more connected to their unborn child during pregnancy, they subsequently lost more gray matter volume, especially in the frontal and parietal lobes, parts of the brain involved in executive functioning and sensorimotor processing, respectively.

Greater volume loss was also found among fathers who said they spent more time with their infants three months after giving birth, enjoyed more bonding time with their infants, and experienced less stress in parenting. The results are consistent with previous research on mothers and suggest that more motivated, hands-on fathers have lost more gray matter with the onset of fatherhood.

Also interesting were the results of the study in terms of the impact of fatherhood on mental health and sleep quality. Men who lost more brain volume also reported greater depression, anxiety, overall psychological stress, and poorer sleep both six and 12 months after birth.

It is important to note that this study is preliminary: it involved a small number of men. These results now need to be replicated in larger and more representative groups of fathers.

Nevertheless, as one of the first studies of male brain changes during the onset of first fatherhood, these findings suggest that perinatal brain changes may reflect both adaptation and vulnerability. The same changes associated with greater parental investment in care also seemed to increase the risk of sleep problems and mental health issues.

However, numerous studies show that children whose fathers are involved in their upbringing do better in all areas: academically, economically, and emotionally. And men themselves say that fatherhood makes their lives richer and more meaningful.

In turn, such results support public health priorities that invest in men - and fathers in general - through policies that reduce stress for new fathers in the first months after birth, such as paid leave and workplace efforts to normalize leave for men.

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