I met a couple recently who had received my first book, Becoming a Dad, as a gift at a baby shower. The wife of this couple said she found the book helpful to better understand what goes on in the mind of a guy (ladies, isn’t the male brain one of the great mysteries of this world?).
We landed in a conversation about how that book was born out of my own desire to understand more about “getting in the game” of parenting, and a desire to see men become more engaged on the front side of parenting. Here’s some research about how parenting changes a man . . . LITERALLY changes him.
Men undergo hormonal changes as they prepare for fatherhood.
Four to six weeks following the news of becoming a father, levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol, tend to spike and subside as the pregnancy continues. Cortisol ignites a range of biological effects in response to stress to provide a state of balanced stability for our bodies and minds, needed for optimal functioning.
Male hormones begin a seesaw effect as due date nears. Roughly three weeks before the baby arrives, levels of testosterone in men, known as the “male hormone,” fall by roughly a third. Testosterone in males is often associated with aggression, competition, and sex drive. As testosterone is falling, a man’s supply of prolactin (the hormone that helps mothers make milk) increases by more than 20%. Male hormones begin readjusting when the baby is roughly six weeks old, returning to pre-fatherhood levels around the time the baby is walking.
We’ve long studied and identified how fathers enrich the lives of children, but researchers have recently gathered new data as to how children affect a father’s physical and emotional well-being. Researchers have observed and studied expectant and new fathers in a variety of settings, with a variety of tasks to evaluate how neurochemistry is affected by the experience of parenthood. In one study, fathers were asked to play with infants. Researchers then measured levels of oxytocin. There was an identified link between hormones and play. Fathers who provided babies with affectionate stimulation experienced an immediate boost in oxytocin. In another study, men were tested at two months postpartum, and then observed in play at six months and retested. These fathers were identified with high levels of prolactic and oxytocin. These higher hormone levels were linked with intentional parenting – more communicative, responsive, engaged, stimulating play.
Another research team suggested these hormonal shifts may potentially aid new fathers in coping more effectively with crying. Men with lower testosterone levels showed more sympathy for the baby. Furthermore, the higher the level of prolactin, the more alert he was to a crying infant.
The Male Brain, by Louann Brizendine, M.D. Morgan Road/Broadway Books