Please excuse the automotive metaphors, but they’re the best way to describe the powerful force that will emerge within you. Even before your baby arrives, pheromones emitted by your pregnant mate kick-starts a daddy brew of hormones in your brain. They act like a high octane additive that improves your performance, enabling you to care for your child and pull him from a burning building.
Here is the makeup of your Daddy brain additive:
- Oxytocin helps drive Daddy-Baby relationships too. The more you interact with your new baby, the more oxytocin you and your baby will enjoy and the deeper your bond will be. Taking your shirt off and laying your diapered baby on your chest benefits both of you.
- Vasopressin, the “family man” hormone, helps promote your overriding commitment to Mom and your baby, patience, calm, stability, enhanced vigilance, and a strong protective inclination for your mate and child. It refocuses your perspective through your new “dad’s lens.”
- Cortisol, the stress hormone, doubles in the three weeks before birth. It intensifies our feelings and response to our baby’s cries, and also fuels our fight-or-flight impulse, which supports your heightened protective role.
- Prolactin increases 20% in the weeks before birth and enhances your instincts to care for your baby.
- Testosterone drops 33% in the first weeks after birth, and bounces back to normal at about six weeks. Beyond temporarily diminishing your sex drive, this enables a strong emotional focus on your baby during a prime bonding period.
Your baby will add the equivalent of a turbocharger and engine performance chip in your brain for a long term boost in your daddy horsepower. Triggered by your physical contact with your baby, your brain will repurpose existing neurons and develop new ones to support your role as a father (like mom’s brain, but not as fast or as much initially).
The research includes a study on prairie voles in the days following the birth of their pups. They developed new neurons in their brains, but only if dad stayed in the nest. One of their major functions of these neurons is to amplify the power of hormones, hence the turbocharger metaphor.
These neurons were located in the orbitofrontal cortex of the mouse brain, where they also enhance decision-making and emotional control. Other research found that rat fathers are better at finding food and react less to stress as well. These studies point out that fathers are biologically programed to become better men, with instructions embedded in their DNA. It is the equivalent of a performance chip is auto installed in your brain and your tanks filled NASCAR grade fuel when your baby arrives.
At 3-4 months old he’ll kick his legs in excitement when he sees you but won’t for anyone else. At birth, he only has 20% of his neurons connected, and all you have to do is take care of him to get a large share dedicated to you.
A synchronized neurochemical symphony will play out in your brains as primal forces fine-tune your connection. You will bring out the best in him, and he will bring out the best in you. This is the epitome of the human survival instinct.
The bonding a father’s hands-on care triggers helps explain why, after finally being allowed in the delivery room in the 70’s, fathers tripled their time with their children.
If you experience unusual nausea, major weight gain, insomnia, or food cravings that mimic your mate’s symptoms, it’s likely you’re experiencing sympathy pains (“couvade syndrome”). While your friends may rag on you, the net result is you’ll likely be a better dad.
- Men who share symptoms with their mate report feeling close and connected to her and the baby, and she appreciated his “sharing” her pregnancy.
- Couvade syndrome (sympathetic pregnancy) is now thought to be triggered by biochemical and hormonal changes in dads-to-be.
- Research shows that men who experience couvade are likely to spend more time caring for their babies.
- Couvade syndrome typically starts at the end of the first trimester and ends with birth.
If you experience couvade, take a positive view and remember: all that will be left when your baby arrives is your predisposition to be a great dad.