When becoming fathers, men lose gray matter to adapt to the arrival of their children

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Pregnancy is a major transition in a woman’s life as her body, including her brain, adapts through significant physiological changes. The neuronal changes would induce a progressive psychic construction linked to the attachment of the mother to her child, in a kind of psychological preparation. But what about the father? One of the few studies that addressed the question revealed, for the first time, that neuronal adaptation phenomena also occur in the father during the transition to fatherhood. In particular, there would be a reduction in cortical volume and a thinning of its surface. These changes would be linked to the responses to the visual signals of their children, and would probably be at the origin of a progressive construction of a father-son psychic bond.

During pregnancy, some women sometimes become less attentive, less focused, and develop memory problems. On the other hand, they can become real “sponges”, as if their emotional capacities have suddenly increased. These phenomena would be due to a great transition in the whole organism.

Studies have focused on these events and have revealed that in pregnant women, the brain would undergo changes such as loss of volume and gray matter, even two years after delivery. This great cerebral plasticity would allow, in particular, to prepare the mother physiologically and psychologically for the care of the child. Some hypotheses suggest that the development of the maternal instinct stems from this.

These brain changes would be of hormonal origin and would occur at the level of the regions involved in social interactions including perception, interpretation of desires, emotions, etc. Contrary to some popular beliefs and myths (such as single neuron syndrome), this is not a disabling condition, as the loss of gray matter could represent a beneficial process of maturation or specialization at a critical time in life. . Furthermore, strong neural activity was recorded in specific areas of the brain when mothers looked at photos of their babies, suggesting a positive effect.

However, when it comes to fatherhood, very few studies have focused on studying brain changes in men who become fathers. However, some research has found that responsive parental behavior has a positive impact on child development. According to a new international study, a man’s transition to fatherhood would also induce important preparatory physiological phenomena.

Led by the Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute (in Spain), the new study in question is one of the few dedicated to the neuroanatomical adaptations of men in transition to fatherhood. The results, published in the journal Oxford Academic (a synthesis of two studies) suggest for the first time that brain changes similar to those in mothers occur in fathers. The latter would also suffer a biological disorder when becoming parents, to adapt (psychologically) also to the arrival of their children.

Cortical and subcortical volume loss

Specifically, the new study looks at how parental experience can influence brain plasticity, even when the pregnancy is not directly experienced, the case of the father. The analyzes were performed on a first group of 20 parents before and after the birth of their first children. The second group (control) consisted of 17 men without children.

The main goal of the observations was to determine whether paternity caused anatomical changes in the brain in terms of overall volume, cortical thickness, and subcortical volume. The results showed that in the father, cortical and subcortical volumes decreased significantly. The cortical “surface” would also have decreased in the new parents.

The researchers then wanted to see if the course of these changes was related to the children’s age, and if the father’s brain responses differed if the babies were not his. They then found that the largest reductions in the volume and thickness of the cerebral cortex were linked to stronger responses (brain activity) when the father looked at a photo of his child, even after birth. The answers, however, were completely different with images of other children.

Source: Oxford Academy

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