First-time dads’ brains shrink to help them connect with their baby, researchers claim

It is common for women to experience ‘baby brain’ during pregnancy and early motherhood – but do men face cognitive struggles too?

A recent study has revealed that men experience changes to their brain after their child is born.

Researchers from Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid found that fathers lose up to two percent of cortical volume following the birth of their first child.

While it is not confirmed, the experts suggest that changes to their brain may make it easier for them to connect with their baby.

Existing research has revealed that women often experience changes in their limbic subcortical networks during early motherhood.

This system in the brain is associated with pregnancy hormones, as well as behavioural and emotional responses.

However, it has not yet been concluded whether becoming a father has any effect on the brain.

The researchers, led by Magdalena Martinez-Garcia, wrote in the article published in Cerebral Cortex : “Studying fathers offers a unique opportunity to explore how parenting experience can shape the human brain when pregnancy is not directly experienced.”

Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the brains of 40 heterosexual first-time fathers.

Half of the participants were located in the US, and took part in brain scans during the mid-to-late stages of their partner’s pregnancy, and then again seven to eight months after birth.

While the other half of fathers were based in Spain, and they participated in brain scans before their partners’ pregnancies and then again a few months after their child was born.

A further 17 men without children in Spain also had their brains scanned as a control group.

The researchers measured the thickness, volume and structural properties of the participants’ brains.

They found that, unlike mothers, men did not experience changes to their limbic subcortical networks.

But they did find changes to their cortical grey matter, the area of the brain which is linked to personality and social understanding.

They also discovered a reduction in the volume of their visual system.

The researchers wrote: “These findings may suggest a unique role of the visual system in helping fathers to recognise 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.”