New Dads Get ‘Mommy’ Hormones
Let’s talk biology. It helps if you listen to “She Blinded Me With Science” as you read this.
A psychologist and brain scientist at the Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University (who moonlights at the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine) named Ruth Feldman published a study showing that new dads actually get the same kinds of hormones that new moms get. The two hormones, Prolactin and Oxytocin, were previously thought to be secreted only by mothers, but Feldman’s study found traces of both hormones in the saliva of new fathers as well.
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Both Oxytocin and Prolactin act on a woman during and after childbirth, primarily helping a new mother “let down”, which is a nice way of saying “start the breast buffet”. They also act on a woman during pregnancy to enlarge the mammary glands. Blah blah blah. Also buried in the Oxytocin Wikipedia link is some mumbo-jumbo about women’s orgasms. I wasn’t able to weed through the science-babble long enough to get to the good parts, but my assumption is that it’ll be more science-babble, which doesn’t do it for me. Someone fill me in later.
Getting back to Feldman’s study, a group of fathers were videoed playing with their babies and assigned to do specific social games. They were also given toys in a basket to work with. As it turned out, fathers with higher levels of Prolactin were more likely to play investigative games that aroused curiosity in the baby. Fathers with higher levels of Oxytocin found themselves creating a stronger social bond with the baby. All fathers were measured on demonstration of affection, glances at the children, the sounds they made, and physical contact – things like touching the babies’ bodies, hands and feet, including actions like hugging and kissing.
So – when you’re holding your new baby, or playing stupid little peek-a-boo games with them, remember – if you’re caught shedding a tear of happiness or two, you can blame the hormones. Proudly tell your wife that she’s not the only one who’s got a chemical imbalance! And get back to playing with that baby – your bonding now will create a lifetime of closeness. I mean, probably. I’m 30, what do I know?