Much has been written about brain development and motherhood. It is well known that the nine months of pregnancy a mother experiences provide ample time for intimate mother child bonding which produces hormones that trigger changes in the mother’s brain, making her more responsive to the needs of her offspring .
Do fathers follow a similar course of brain development?
Parenting Induces Neuroplasticity in Father Rats
According to neuroscientist Brian Mossop, father rats get an extra boost of brain cells only when they stay in the nest after the birth of the litter without best brain supplements. Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire itself from new experiences, is triggered by the physical contact a father makes with the young. Neural growth in the hippocampus,the brain’s memory center,occurs when the brain condenses the smell of young pups into long term memories.
While adult mice tend to forget their cage mates, paternal memories triggered by offspring smell seem to last longer; studies demonstrate that father rats easily recognize their young by smell even after a long separation.
Interaction with Fathers Induces Normal Brain Development in Rat Pups
If interaction with pups enhances the father’s brain development, the same can be said of the father’s influence on neurogenesis or the growth of new brain cells in his offspring. Researchers found that when a Degu father rat stays with the nest litter, the pups’ brains developed normally.
However, if the father was removed from the nest soon after the birth of the litter, the newborns’ brains broke down in their synaptic functions; they developed fewer synapses in both the orbitofrontal cortex and the somatosensory cortex, two areas crucial for decision making, reward and emotion.
Instead of flourishing from the interaction of an attentive father, these synapses of the somatosensory cortex withered away in pups with absent dads.
Can this scenario be applied to humans? Jeremy Adam Smith thinks so; in his article, “The Daddy Brain,” Smith cites a study tracking 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 in the United Kingdom.Researchers found more incidents of emotional and behavior problems in youngsters three years and younger “if their fathers had not taken time off work when they were born, or had not used flexible work schedules to have a more positive role in their upbringing.”
Hormonal Fluctuations in Fathers
Aside from triggering brain changes, the experience of fatherhood influences the hormonal configuration in men. According to neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, men,like women, experience a surge of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy.
This surge, putting the father’s brain on alert for the baby’s arrival, subsides three weeks before the baby arrives when levels of testosterone, the male hormone responsible for competitiveness, aggressiveness and the sex drive, fall by a third.
At the same time, the man’s supply of prolactin, a hormone associated with lactation and milk production in mothers, rises by 20%. By the time the baby starts walking between 12 and 16 months, the father’s male hormones return to pre-fatherhood levels.
Prolactin seems to influence a father’s responsiveness to the baby’s cries; lower testosterone levels also induce fathers to be more responsive to the child. According to Susan Kuchinskas in her article, “Benefits of the Daddy Brain,” this idea was borne out in a study on marmoset rats at the Wisconsin National Private Research Center. Researchers separated marmoset dads from their families, then gave them a whiff of their babies’ scent; researchers found that the testosterone levels of these father rats dropped within 20 minutes.
Recent discoveries in fatherhood and brain development emphasize the need for the involvement of both parents in the development of a child. Parenting can no longer be seen as the mother’s prerogative. Fathers are as much biologically wired for interaction with their children as mothers are. Most significant is the loss of synaptic development in crucial brain areas in children who are unhappily deprived of one or both parents.