Upon discovering that they are about to become fathers, men often experience a drop in two hormones: testosterone and estradiol. This happens even before their babies are born, according to a new University of Michigan study.
Past research has demonstrated that men's hormones change after they become fathers, and there is some evidence that this is a function of a decline after the child's birth.
What is unique about the new U-M study is this: it is the first research to show that the decline may begin even earlier, during the transition to fatherhood, said Robin Edelstein, the study's lead author. "We don't yet know exactly why men's hormones are changing," said Edelstein, U-M associate professor of psychology.
"These changes could be a function of psychological changes that men experience as they prepare to become fathers, changes in their romantic relationships, or even physical changes that men experience along with their pregnant partners.
"Nevertheless, fathers' hormonal changes could have significant implications for paternal behavior once their babies are born." It has long been known (and painfully aware of by many husbands) that expectant mothers experience mercurial hormone changes and unusual food cravings while pregnant.
However, less has been known about the prenatal hormone changes among expectant fathers. Edelstein and colleagues examined testosterone, cortisol, estradiol, and progesterone levels in 29 first-time expectant couples between the ages of 18 and 45.
Samples were obtained up to four times during the prenatal period at about 12, 20, 28, and 36 weeks of pregnancy.
Women showed substantial fetal increases in all four hormones, while men saw drops in testosterone (which is associated with aggression and parental care) and estradiol (which is related to caregiving and bonding).
No changes were found in men's cortisol (a stress hormone) or progesterone (which is associated with social closeness and maternal behavior).
The conclusion? It's not only the physical presence of an infant that lowers testosterone Edelstein also said. One limitation of the new study (especially concerning lower testosterone levels) is that researchers do not have a comparison group of men who are not expecting a child.
"Thus, we can't completely rule out the possibility that the changes are simply due to age or the passage of time," Edelstein said.
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