You may be surprised to know that it isn’t just women who experience vast hormonal change during pregnancy and postpartum. The hormonal changes that fathers experience are driven by their amount of involvement with their partner and baby, and can have far-reaching effects on their physical and mental health. Our Toronto Naturopath, Dr. Julia Segal, explains this below.
For starters, gender aside, anybody who spends time care-giving for a baby will experience hormonal change. Those who are primary caregivers and feel solely responsible most of the time for feeding and soothing their baby, will have skyrocketing oxytocin levels. Oxytocin was first known as a birth and breastfeeding hormone, but in recent decades has become known as a love, trust and intimacy hormone. In Paul Zak’s book The Moral Molecule, he describes his experiments doing blood oxytocin testing after a show of trust – for example, he gave everyone in a room a certain amount of money and had them make decisions about what to do with it. Blood oxytocin levels soared as compared to before trust was placed in these subjects. There’s nothing quite like the responsibility of caring for a newborn human baby, and just doing so stimulates a huge rise in oxytocin levels in the primary caregiver whether they are male or female, and whether they are breastfeeding or not.
In a scenario where a father is involved in caring for their baby but is spending much less time caring for them than their partner is, their oxytocin will peak when baby is around four months old. This is because by that time, feeding patterns, bonding and physical recovery for the mother have been established, the baby has become more interactive, and fathers’ involvement and direct interaction with baby typically goes way up. In contrast, the first couple of months for new fathers often involves a lot of time spent supporting the mother and perhaps doing household tasks she is unable to do, and less time one-on-one with the baby.
The effect of higher oxytocin can be experienced much like the warm, fuzzy feelings you get from a good hug, a video of your favourite baby animals, or the feeling you would get if someone gave you a hefty sum of money to keep safe and invest for them. It has anti-stress effects which oppose those of cortisol or adrenaline, which are well-known stress hormones.