Parenting: What’s the Father-Child Bond have to do with it?

A dad with his son.

A dad with his son (Image via Wikipedia)

A very interesting post on Dr. Marsha Lucas’s blog, ReWire Your Brain for Love®, caught my eye but because of work on my new business site, Ottawa Family Mediation, I only got around to reading it today.  The blog post excerpts an excellent article in the Scientific AmericanThe Brains of Our Fathers: Does Parenting Rewire Dads?, that deals with the changes in a father’s brain and the newborn’s brain after birth.  Below are some excerpts from the latter.  I urge you to read it in its entirety.

[…] A recent wave of studies are starting to bear fruit: We are now learning that in the first few days after birth, changes occur in the brains of both the dad and the baby, depending on whether the father is around or not. Perhaps neuroscientists have finally cornered the elusive father-child bond, and found the biological hook that makes sure a father sticks around after birth.

Brains are not static, and neurons constantly rewire themselves throughout life. Not only do brain cells alter their connections, but additional neurons can also spontaneously form, a process called neurogenesis. While the mechanism of neurogenesis is not fully understood, extra brain cell growth is strongly correlated to learning new things.

A recent study has shown that neurogenesis took place in male mice in the days following the birth of their pups. But the extra boost of brain cells only occurred if the mouse father stayed in the nest. […]

In mammals, neurons located in the nose detect scents using special odor receptors, and shuttle the information to the olfactory bulb, which is the integration center for smell. Yet smelling his pups alone was not enough to cause new neurons to form. When the researchers separated the father from his pups by placing a mesh screen between them in the cage, no additional brain cells appeared. The father had to be physically present in the nest in the early postnatal days to get another dose of neurons. The physical contact he had with his pups in the nest coupled with the smells of his young are what made the neurons grow.
While it appears the seed of the father-child bond is planted by supplemental neurons in a new dad, it seems a child, on the other hand, may be born with a brain that expects this bond to form in the first place.


[…] if a rodent father remained in the nest with his pups – presumably due to the newfound bond with his offspring – his babies’ brains developed normally. But if the father was removed from the nest shortly after the birth of his pups, his newborns’ brains started to break down at the level of synapses, which are short chemical junctions in the brain that allow brain cells to communicate with each other.


These animal studies show that a father’s brain is significantly and beautifully intertwined with his offspring’s. For whatever reasons, be they biological, evolutional, or societal, the onus of human parenthood has traditionally fallen on the mother. But the evidence is showing that a father has direct influence on his child’s neurodevelopment – and indeed, his brain can benefit as well.