First-time fathers’ brains SHRINK by up to 2% after the birth of their baby – but it can actually help them connect with their child, study finds
- Previous studies show motherhood can change the structure of women’s brains
- Researchers set out to see if this was also the case for first-time fathers
- They performed MRI scans on 40 first-time dads in Spain and the US
- On average, men lost 1-2% of cortical volume after their child was born
Many women experience cognitive struggles during pregnancy and after birth, in what is often referred to as ‘baby brain.’
Now, a new study suggests that men may experience brain changes following the birth of their first child too.
Researchers from Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid found that first-time fathers lose a percentage or two of cortical volume after their child is born.
While the reason for this remains unclear, the researchers suggest that the change may make it easier for fathers to connect with their child.
A new study suggests that men may experience brain changes following the birth of their first child too
‘Baby brain’ is REAL
Pregnant women are more likely to get lost when they drive as a result of ‘baby brain’, research suggested in 2016.
Key areas of the brain involved in helping people find their way around were smaller during the last month of pregnancy, a study found.
This affects their ability to navigate and means they are more likely to get confused on a journey, German scientists claimed.
Experts say changes in the levels of the hormone oestrogen during pregnancy appear to alter the structure of parts of the brain, changing how expectant women think.
Previous studies have shown that motherhood can change the structure of women’s brains.
In particular, women can experience changes in their limbic subcortical networks – the part of the brain associated with pregnancy hormones.
However, researchers have not been able to reach a consensus or whether parenthood also has an effect on fathers’ brains.
‘Studying fathers offers a unique opportunity to explore how parenting experience can shape the human brain when pregnancy is not directly experienced,’ the researchers, led by Magdalena Martinez-Garcia, wrote in their study, published in Cerebral Cortex.
In the study, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the brains of 40 heterosexual first-time fathers.
Half of the fathers were based in Spain, and participated in brain scans before their partners’ pregnancies and then again a few months after birth.
The other half were based in the US, and participated in brain scans during the mid-to-late stages of their partners’ pregnancy, and then again seven to eight months after birth.
Meanwhile, 17 men without children in Spain also had their brains scanned as a control group.
While the reason for the findings remains unclear, the researchers suggest that the change may make it easier for fathers to connect with their child
Using the scans, the researchers measured the volume, thickness, and structural properties of the men’s brains.
The results revealed that the men did not experience changes to their limbic subcortical networks, like women.
However, they did show signs of brain changes in their cortical grey matter – the area of the brain involved in social understanding.
They also showed reductions in the volume of their visual system.
‘These findings may suggest a unique role of the visual system in helping fathers to recognize their infants and respond accordingly, a hypothesis to be confirmed by future studies,’ the researchers said.
‘Understanding how the structural changes associated with fatherhood translate into parenting and child outcomes is a largely unexplored topic, providing exciting avenues for future research.’
EXPLAINED: MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING USED MAGNETIC FIELDS TO SEE INSIDE THE BODY
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.
An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan.
An MRI scan can be used to examine almost any part of the body, including the brain and spinal cord, bones and joints, breasts, heart and blood vessels and internal organs – such as the liver, womb or prostate gland.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. An MRI scanner is a large tube that contains powerful magnets. You lie inside the tube during the scan
The results of an MRI scan can be used to help diagnose conditions, plan treatments and assess how effective previous treatment has been.
Most of the human body is made up of water molecules, which consist of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. At the centre of each hydrogen atom is an even smaller particle, called a proton. Protons are like tiny magnets and are very sensitive to magnetic fields.
When you lie under the powerful scanner magnets, the protons in your body line up in the same direction, in the same way that a magnet can pull the needle of a compass.
Short bursts of radio waves are then sent to certain areas of the body, knocking the protons out of alignment. When the radio waves are turned off, the protons realign. This sends out radio signals, which are picked up by receivers.
These signals provide information about the exact location of the protons in the body. They also help to distinguish between the various types of tissue in the body, because the protons in different types of tissue realign at different speeds and produce distinct signals.
In the same way that millions of pixels on a computer screen can create complex pictures, the signals from the millions of protons in the body are combined to create a detailed image of the inside of the body.