• Afraid You Don't Have Maternal Instinct? Your Husband Can Help!

    A study says a father's genes can influence the quality of care a newborn receives from his mother.
    by Rachel Perez .
Afraid You Don't Have Maternal Instinct? Your Husband Can Help!
PHOTO BY iStock
  • If it takes two to make a baby, then that partnership ideally remains unchanged as the baby grows up up. Yes, the mom breastfeeds, for example, but dad can help in nursing (we always say it is a family affair). There is even a new study now that emphasizes how dads are crucial partners of moms.  

    New research published in PLOS Biology showed a father's genes have been been found to have an influence on the mother's nurturing instincts, affecting the type of care a baby receives from his mom before and after birth.

    The research team has been investigating the hormonal signals given off from the placenta during pregnancy. The placenta is the fetus's primary source of energy and nutrients in the mother's womb. Through the hormones it releases, placenta also plays a significant factor in shaping a new mom's behavior.) 

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    The researchers found that hormones produced by placental cells called spongiotrophoblasts are kept in check by a gene called Phlda2. A developing fetus has two copies of the Phlda2, one each from mom and dad. But unlike most genes, only the mom's copy of Phlda2 is active. This is due to an evolutionary phenomenon called genomic imprinting, where a gene copy from only one parent is switched on. The dad's Phlda2 gene is there but inactive.

    According to a press statement, scientists led by Rosalind John and Anthony Isles, professors from Cardiff University's School of Biosciences, asked what happened if both copies of the fetus' Phlda2 gene were active (a "maternalized" condition) or if both were silent (a "paternalized" condition).

    Using mice as test subjects, "they found that mothers exposed to pups with the highest Phlda2 activity (and therefore presumably reduced placental hormones) nursed and groomed their pups less and instead focused on nest building. Conversely, 'paternalized' mothers, exposed to the lowest Phlda2 dose (and therefore higher hormone levels), spent more time nurturing their pups, and less on housekeeping tasks. The authors also showed corresponding changes in two regions of the mother's brain - the hypothalamus and hippocampus."

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    The hypothalamus is responsible for behavioral aspects of the brain, while the hippocampus is vital in forming new memories and connecting them to emotions and senses, like smells and sounds.

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    The takeaway is fathers not only impact a child's genetic makeup, but his genes also affect the soon-to-be mom as well. "The results of this study suggest that the father, by causing his Phlda2 gene to be silent in the fetus, can even affect the nurturing behavior of the mother after his offspring have been born." 

    "We are currently asking whether similar gene changes are associated with poor quality maternal care," said study lead author John in a statement, emphasizing that the results may present a huge leap but also a promising one.

    Several studies have been done on the role of hormones in a woman's mental health during pregnancy and after birth. An example is ingesting the placenta after giving birth to help the body release hormones that could help prevent postpartum depression.

    While the study is yet to discover what makes the dads' version of the gene active or inactive, it's safe to say that having him support the preggo mom the moment they find out they are expecting, to birth, and being a hands-on caring for the child is a good start.  

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