Modern fathers, for better or worse

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Father's Day, here are some 21st century revelations:

Dad-to-be is a mess of hormones. The male brain changes when a baby's on the way, according to Louann Brizendine M.D., author of The Male Brain. First there's a surge in cortisol, the "fight or flight" hormone. Then, shortly before the baby is born, the expectant father's testosterone levels drop dramatically-perhaps understandably, since nurturing, not aggression, is what's called for. Less well understood: a simultaneous rise in the milk-production hormone prolactin.

Dad Gets Postpartum Depression. The new-baby blues ain't just for Mom anymore. The odds a father will suffer from postpartum depression after the birth of his child are 1 in 10 (compared with 1 in 7.14 for mothers). That's twice the rate for the general male population: the odds a man has major depressive disorder are 1 in 20.41. According to researchers, postpartum depression in either parent is bad for the baby as it results in less engagement and weaker bonding. We wonder if the odds of getting the baby blues might be less in a place like Sweden, which encourages fathers to take time off to adjust to their new family and get to know its newest member.

Paternity Leave Benefits Everyone. Sweden's pioneering policy prompts new fathers to actively participate in baby care. Current law mandates 13 months of parental leave and reserves two of those months for fathers exclusively. One result has been increased wage parity between genders: a study showed that for each month of "daddy leave" a father takes, a mother's future earnings rise 7%. Other countries, like Germany, have followed suit, and even Britain is introducing new laws giving fathers six months' paternity leave. Maybe if British fathers take advantage, they'll start to feel more like dads; a recent survey found 74% of working dads in Britain identified "breadwinner," rather than "father," as their main responsibility.

But even in a country which doesn't encourage leave, like the US, there's good news for fathers:

Fatherhood May Bring Health Benefits. The evidence isn't conclusive, but Kermyt Anderson, co-author of Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior, notes that fathers over the long term seem to be healthier and live longer than non-fathers. Some fathers certainly perceive it that way: three-quarters of the dads surveyed by one pediatrician reported that fatherhood had impacted their health positively. In any case, it definitely works the other way. An examination of decades of studies concluded that despite a long history of research focus on motherhood, it is "unmistakably clear" that a father's love is an important factor in a child's development.

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