MRI Scans Reveal Changes In Men’s Brains After Becoming Fathers

Engaged fathers do better than their non-engaged counterparts in various outcomes, including physical health and cognitive performance. Within the past 50 years, fathers have devoted more time to child care than ever before. It is even more pronounced in countries that have expanded paid paternity leave or provided incentives for fathers to take leave, such as Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Iceland.

Even though fathers are increasingly involved in child care, there is little research about how fatherhood impacts men. There are fewer studies on the brain and biological changes related to fatherhood.

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The transition to parenthood can be transformative for everyone with a new baby. Does fatherhood reshape the brains and bodies of men who don’t experience pregnancy directly into parents? A new mother’s brain might change due to pregnancy-related hormonal changes.

How Pregnancy Affects A New Mom’s Brain

There is compelling evidence that pregnancy enhances neuroplasticity in women’s brains. New mothers’ brain volume shrank relative to childless women during pregnancy and in the early postpartum period. Magnetic resonance imaging has revealed large-scale changes in women’s brains before and after pregnancy. These changes can be seen throughout the gray matter, the layer of neurons in the brain.

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Even Dads’ Brains Change Over Time

The experience of caring for an infant might leave an impression on new parents’ brains. The brain changes associated with learning a new language or mastering a musical instrument are called experience-induced brain plasticity. Researchers observe this plasticity in fathers who care for newborns without going through pregnancy. Several significant changes in fathers’ brains occurred from prenatal to postpartum that did not happen among childless men.

How Does A New Father’s Brain Change?

A father’s level of brain plasticity may be related to how much he interacts with his baby. Paternal involvement in child care is increasing in many countries, but it varies widely between men. Compared with first-time mothers, these fathers showed more subtle changes to their brains, possibly because they are more involved in their children. Compared to mothers, fathers experienced almost half the amount of brain change.