Brain Shrinkage: First-time fathers warned as brains may get SMALLER

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A team of international researchers have found that new fathers may experience significant neurological changes, proving that like mothers, men can have brain structure changed during parenthood. In the new study, the scientists found that on average, new fathers lost a percentage or two of cortical volume following the birth of their first child. This shrinkage was significantly less pronounced and uniform than in women and was primarily confined to a region of the brain known as the “default mode network”.

This region is best known for being active when a person is not focused on the outside world, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering, and is also associated with parental acceptance and warmth.

While this loss of volume may sound scary, scientists suggest this could actually indicate a refinement of the brain, which allows them to connect with a child more efficiently.

Women experience similar cortical volume losses, which are associated with stronger child-parent attachment and greater neural responses towards the child.

While studies in the past have suggested that there are subtle neurological changes in fathers’ brains, the evidence found so far has been conflicting.

While some found that grey matter increases following the birth of a child, others showed that the grey matter in fathers shrunk.

Studies have also found variations in different regions of the brain, and very few have distinguished between childless men, first-time fathers, and dads with multiple children.

In one of the most rigorous studies on the topic, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data collected from 40 heterosexual first-time fathers, with half of based in Spain and half living in the US.

The study conducted brain scans for a number of expected fathers before their partner’ pregnancies, and once again a few months after their birth.

Across the Atlantic, the fathers had their brains scanned during the mid-to-late stages of their partner’s pregnancy, and once then again seven to eight months after the birth.

As a control group, the researchers also scanned a group of seventeen childless men, gathering data from all three groups to account for volume, thickness, and structural properties

The study found that even though fathers are not carrying children themselves, their brains are affected by parenthood.

Recent studies have shown that like women, men can be just as impacted by postpartum depression.

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In the paper published in the Journal Cerebral Cortex, the authors wrote: “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.

“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.”

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