There is no mom on the planet that hasn’t experienced a good bout of “mom brain”. You forget appointments. You walked into the kitchen for something but now you have no idea what you were going in there to get. When a person becomes a mom, evidence shows that their brain literally changes — and the changes actually are shown to begin when a person becomes pregnant.
For years, scientists believed only the mom was affected by this “mom brain” phenomenon. However, new research shows that dads might also have neurological changes after baby comes.
The study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, reports that some dads experience brain changes after a new baby arrives — specifically shrinkage in the the visual network and growth in the the “default mode network” responsible for empathy and memory.
Prior research has shown that during pregnancy and the postpartum period, the adult brain is at its most plastic. This means that the human brain has a much better chance to change and rearrange.
“Becoming a parent entails changes to your lifestyle and your biology,” Darby Saxbe, the study’s senior author and a professor of psychology at USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, told USC News. “And it requires new skills like being able to empathize with a nonverbal infant, so it makes sense but has not been proven that the brain would be particularly plastic during the transition to parenthood as well.”
To see if dads really experienced brain changes like moms do, researchers examined the brain scans of 40 expectant fathers — 20 in the United States and 20 in Spain. Researchers also looked at a group of 17 childless fathers in Spain.
Comparisons made before and after the men’s babies were born showed changes where the brain processes visual information. The researchers identified that the most significant changes in the new fathers occurred in the cortex. The men with no children did not have those changes.
The cortex is the part of the brain “involved in attention, planning, and executive functioning.” However, it’s interesting to note that evidence shows that moms have subcortical and cortical changes while in dads, only cortical changes were seen.
So what can all this new evidence teach us?
First off, maybe we need to cut dads a little bit of slack during those hectic and exhausting postpartum days because their brain is changing too. Second, with evidence that a dad’s “default mode network” grows — the part of the brain closely associated with empathy, memory recall and future thinking— dad’s new empathy and memory skills could come in super handy when mom is struggling in that area.
Maybe this is why my husband always remembered everything our pediatrician said during those first few appointments while my mind was a black abyss. It seems like the way a dad’s brain alters during the newborn phase could be complimentary to “mom brain.”