For all those new dads out there who are feelin’ the love for their babies just as much as moms, there’s science behind your devotion to fatherhood. As you probably know, there is a lot of talk about maternal instinct as it relates to carrying a baby for around nine months, giving birth, breastfeeding and all of the hormones involved in the process. But you may be surprised to learn that fathers also have hormonal shifts that contribute to paternal instinct.
Like maternal instinct, paternal instinct is triggered by a change in hormones including estrogen, prolactin and oxytocin. You may not realize that men also have these hormones in their bodies, albeit in different proportions to women. Because dads don’t have the same physical bond from the prenatal period as moms, a dad’s paternal instinct is usually activated when spending time caring for his baby. The more time dads spend with their babies, the stronger their paternal instinct. And studies show it’s certain types of quality time that makes a difference.
According to research from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, Dads tend to get hormonal boosts that contribute to paternal instinct from more active play and interaction with their babies such as helping their babies explore, moving their babies’ bodies, or trying to elicit smiles. Mothers, on the other hand, often get their hormonal lift from “affectionate parenting” like touching, talking and watching their babies.
Interestingly, babies more often prefer to play with dads and seek comfort from moms, perhaps because this is where parents find the most enjoyment in parenting. And hormones that push maternal and paternal instincts to bond with, love and protect babies correlate during these times as well.
The study also found that mothers and fathers tend to sync oxytocin levels. During times when mothers experienced high oxytocin levels, fathers did too, and vice versa. This may be why postpartum depression also affects father.
As we head into Father’s Day weekend, just take a look at the beautiful bond between your baby and your husband and you’ll know that paternal instinct is alive and well. Let’s celebrate the real gifts of fatherhood: the experience-based paternal instinct that is activated between babies and their dads.
Sources: Aha Parenting, Live Science and Science Magazine