On Friday we wrote about oxytocin, the “hormone of love” that plays a key role in mother-baby bonding and heightened empathy in men.
New research has found that the level of cuddle hormone in men spikes in the weeks just after their baby is born. This came as a shock to researchers, who had assumed that the high levels of oxtocin in mothers were triggered by breastfeeding and giving birth. Yet data showed that fathers consistently matched their partner’s hormonal levels.
So what gives dads the boost? Researchers think it’s stimulatory parenting. Things like tossing your baby in the air, pulling him or her up to sit, tickling, laughing, exploring. In contrast, mothers’ bonding moments (and hormone levels) are tied to affectionate parenting such as hugs, kisses, baby talk or simply gazing into their baby’s face.
“It’s possible that oxytocin is related to the type of behaviors from which mothers and fathers derive the most reward,” said lead researcher, Ruth Feldman. “Infants tend to prefer fathers as playmates when they are positive and choose mothers for comfort when distressed. The infant’s preference may be of a high reward value for the parent, and thus, although mothers and fathers displayed similar levels of affectionate and stimulatory play, oxytocin may be linked to the behaviors each parent found the most rewarding.”