A new study conducted at Emory University suggests that oxytocin—known as a “love hormone”—may help fathers suffering from postpartum depression bond with their young children. Many people overlook the postpartum depression that affects fathers, because the phenomenon is most often associated with women. However, dads can struggle from postpartum depression too.
In an attempt to help men suffering from postpartum depression, the researchers tested the effects of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is defined as a naturally occurring hormone that plays a role in the way a person creates social bonds. The Emory University study revealed that fathers given boosts of the hormone (through a nasal spray) show increased activity in brain regions associated with reward and empathy when shown photos of their children.
“Our findings add to the evidence that fathers, and not just mothers, undergo hormonal changes,” says James Rilling, lead author of the study. Rilling is an Emory University anthropologist and director of the Laboratory for Darwinian Neuroscience. “They also suggest that oxytocin, known to play a role in social bonding, might someday be used to normalize deficits in paternal motivation, such as in men suffering from postpartum depression,” he adds.
Researchers also noted that paternal involvement plays a role in reducing a child’s risk of illness and death. It also helps a child develop social skills.
Photo: sara*, CC-BY
Elizabeth Chambers is a health intern with Paste and a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia.