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First father’s brains shrink by up to 2% after their baby’s birth – but it can really help them connect with their child, study shows
- Previous studies show motherhood can change the structure of women’s brains
- Researchers set out to find out whether this was also the case for novice fathers
- They performed MRI scans on 40 new fathers in Spain and the US
- Men lost an average of 1-2% of the cortical volume after the birth of their child
Many women experience cognitive problems during pregnancy and after birth, in what is often referred to as “baby brain.”
Now, a new study suggests that men may also experience brain changes after the birth of their first child.
Researchers at the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid found that fathers who first lose one or two percent of cortical volume after their child is born.
While the reason for this remains unclear, the researchers suggest the change could make it easier for fathers to connect with their child.
A new study suggests that men may also experience brain changes after the birth of their first child
‘Baby brain’ is REAL
Pregnant women are more likely to get lost driving due to ‘baby brain’, research in 2016 suggested.
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’re more likely to get confused while traveling, German scientists claimed.
Experts say that changes in the levels of the hormone estrogen during pregnancy seem to alter the structure of parts of the brain, making expectant women think.
Previous studies have shown that motherhood can change the structure of women’s brains.
Women, in particular, may 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 on whether parenting also affects 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 partner’s pregnancy and then again a few months after the birth.
The other half were based in the US and participated in brain scans during the mid to late stages of their partner’s 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 the change could make it easier for fathers to connect with their child.
Using the scans, the researchers measured the volume, thickness and structural features of the men’s brains.
The results showed that the men did not experience changes in their limbic subcortical networks, as did women.
However, they showed signs of brain changes in their cortical gray 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 recognize their babies and respond accordingly, a hypothesis that will 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, offering exciting possibilities for future research.”
EXPLAINED: MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGE USED MAGNETIC FIELDS TO SEE IN 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 will lie in 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, uterus, 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 will lie in the tube during the scan
The results of an MRI scan can be used to diagnose conditions, plan treatments, and assess how effective previous treatment has been.
Most of the human body is made up of water molecules, which are made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. At the center of each hydrogen atom is an even smaller particle called a proton. Protons are like small magnets and are very sensitive to magnetic fields.
When you lie under the powerful scanner magnets, the protons in your body point in the same direction, the same way a magnet can pull on a compass needle.
Short bursts of radio waves are then sent to certain parts of the body, causing the protons to get out of alignment. When the radio waves are turned off, the protons realign. This transmits radio signals, which are received by receivers.
These signals provide information about the exact location of the protons in the body. They also help distinguish between the different types of tissue in the body, because the protons in different types of tissue realign at different speeds and produce different signals.
In the same way that millions of pixels on a computer screen can create complex images, the signals from the millions of protons in the body combine to create a detailed image of the inside of the body.