The birth of a baby triggers hormonal changes not only in mothers but in fathers as well. According to a new study, fathers can also undergo hormonal changes that help in motivating them to care for their babies.
This was borne in a research conducted by scientists at Emory University in Georgia in the United States.
During their experiments, the researchers administered the hormone oxytocin to a group of new fathers and monitored their neural activity when shown photos of their toddlers.
There was a noticeable increase in activity in the regions of the brain associated with feelings of empathy and reward among fathers who received oxytocin compared to those who were given a placebo.
The findings indicate that hormonal changes are experienced by fathers as mothers, accentuating empathy and feelings of bonding with the children, the scientists said.
Oxytocin plays a big role in social bonding as it can "normalize deficits in paternal motivation" especially among men who face postpartum depression, according to James Rilling, the main author of the study.
The study has been published in the journal Hormones and Behavior.
Oxytocin In Child Care
Deemed as a maternal hormone, oxytocin is released into a woman's bloodstream during labor and breastfeeding phases. It is a good facilitator for childbirth, milk secretion, and bonding with the baby. Oxytocin also prepares women for child rearing.
The above-mentioned experiment has shown that hormonal changes can affect men and oxytocin can make them better fathers.
In new fathers, oxytocin plays the role of a facilitator of physical stimulation during playtime. It also lets fathers align their emotions with their children.
Research shows that greater paternal involvement will ensure reduced child mortality and morbidity, and boost social, educational, and psychological outcomes.
Depression Among Fathers
While fathers are elated to welcome a newborn into the family, there are those who fall into depression as childbirth sets off anxiety levels. Postpartum depression can also affect men, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
The depression often escalates after the baby is born. There is already evidence of prenatal and postpartum depression in mothers with a change in hormones contributing to such symptoms.
"The rates of antenatal and postnatal paternal depression that we found are consistent with previous similar studies in other countries including the [United States]," said Lisa Underwood, lead study author and a research fellow at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
The cause of depression includes adverse social and relationship factors and a history of depression, the researchers said.
Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers is associated with a higher risk of behavioral and emotional problems in children, especially sons, said a 2008 study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.