- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 5, 2004

The weeks immediately after a baby’s birth are important for men as well as for mother and baby. There is evidence that men experience a hormonal shift similar to a mother’s after the birth of her child, setting the stage for an important period of bonding.

A 1999 study by researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, showed that new dads experienced a drop in testosterone and a rise in their small amounts of estradiol. Estradiol is one of the hormones that influences maternal behavior, says Katherine E. Wynne-Edwards, an author of the study.

Researchers measured hormones in the saliva of 23 dads from the birth of the new baby through the next 12 weeks. They compared the levels against those of 14 men who were not fathers and found a significantly lower level of testosterone and cortisol in the new dads. The new dads also had a higher level of estradiol.

Furthermore, babies respond differently to fathers practically from the start, Yale psychiatrist Kyle D. Pruett says.

Babies can recognize father’s voice at six weeks and seem to have a different response to each parent. Mom’s voice relaxes the baby and calms him or her. Dad’s voice, meanwhile, signals an increase in heart and respiratory rates, as if to say: “Dad’s here! Let’s play!” Dr. Pruett writes in his book “Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child.”

By eight weeks, they respond to the different handling styles of both parents, Dr. Pruett says.

Armin A. Brott, author of several books on fathering, says taking time off from work — to bond with baby and support the new mom — is essential for new dads. He recommends that men think about their options and investigate them well ahead of time to get the most benefit.

“A lot of companies probably do have family-friendly policies; they just don’t publicize it,” Mr. Brott says. “No one I have ever talked to has regretted taking leave.”

Also, there is still the message in corporate culture that taking time off after a baby is born is wimpy, he says.

“Many men don’t take advantage, even of paid time off,” Mr. Brott says. “But it is a wonderful thing to do. If you can take it, you should. It is a wonderful thing to do, and you are showing everyone who comes along after you that it is OK to do so. You will be making it easier for the next generation.”

Jen Jorgensen, spokeswoman for the Society for Human Resources Management, a trade organization based in Alexandria, says 12 percent of companies offered paid paternity leave in 2003. Those numbers are down two percentage points when compared with 2002, but Ms. Jorgensen says that has more to do with the economic downturn than anything else.

Ms. Jorgensen says she expects paid paternity leave to become more popular as baby boomers retire and the next generation of fathers comes into corporate power.

“Our job-satisfaction survey shows an interesting trend,” she says. “Generation X and Y, the younger workers today, place more value on work-life balance than baby boomers. Organizations will be taking more steps toward keeping valued employees.”

Mr. Brott says expectant dads should talk to their employers far in advance about the company’s options. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, any company with more than 50 employees is required to let an employee take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Other companies let workers use vacation, sick leave or other accrued time.

“It is hard to call from the hospital and say, ‘I am not coming in for the next month,’” he says.

Once home, there are a number of things men can do to ease the transition from being a couple to being new parents, Mr. Brott says.

One of the most important is to be supportive if your wife is breast-feeding, he says.

“The more he is supportive, the longer she may be able to do it,” Mr. Brott says.

This means understanding the issues and difficulties facing nursing mothers. While dads can’t breast-feed the baby, they can do a lot more than they think, Mr. Brott says.

“Nursing is exhausting and dehydrating,” he says. “Men can set up feeding stations around the house, where mom can sit in a comfortable chair and have access to a lot of water.”

Fathers can also give nursing mothers a break by offering baby a nighttime bottle of breast milk.

Other tips for new dads:

• Take on as much of the domestic chores — or arrange for help to come in to do them — as possible during the first week. Lining up meals to be brought in would be a welcome treat, Mr. Brott says.

• Consider when your leave would be most effective. Are the new grandmothers coming to help? By all means, take a few days off right after the birth, but extended leave might be most effective after the relatives leave, Mr. Brott says.

• Prepare for new emotions, Dr. Pruett says. Men can experience “baby blues,” too. If they are prepared for the changes in the house and their relationship as a couple, they will not be blindsided by their reaction.

• Take advantage of prenatal classes. Ask questions. Sign up for baby care classes to learn skills such as bathing and diapering a baby.

• Talk about everything, from child care to circumcision to religious upbringing to a college fund, with the child’s mother.

“All of these things are so much better discussed ahead of time,” Mr. Brott says.

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