Father involvement in families benefits children across the lifespan. For example, children with involved fathers show improvements in school readiness, physical health, peer relationships, resilience to psychopathology, and long-term economic and occupational outcomes. However, surprisingly little is known about the factors that predict whether and how fathers successfully transition to parenthood. Like mothers, fathers are affected both psychologically and physiologically by the arrival of a new child. For example, expectant and new fathers experience hormonal changes, and the structure and activity in their brains change as well. This project charts changes in individual fathers-to-be over time prior to and then after their first child is born, and explores which aspects of hormonal and brain changes are most likely to lead to positive parenting influences that optimize their babies' development.
The HATCH (Hormones Across the Transition to Parenthood) study seeks to understand how fathers' brains and bodies prepare to parent. Expectant opposite-sex couples (all first-time parents) will complete five assessments: in-person prenatal (mid-to-late pregnancy); perinatal (within 1-2 days of birth), and postpartum (six months after birth) visits; and additional follow-up questionnaires at 3 months and one year after birth. Cortisol, testosterone, oxytocin, and prolactin will be sampled from the father and mother at each visit. These allow tracking of individual patterns of hormonal change over time, and hormonal synchrony within couples. The investigator will also collect neural data through a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning protocol that includes a high-resolution structural scan and resting state scan to assess changes in brain structure and connectivity, and several functional tasks that assess social cognition. Outcomes related to parenting, couple relationship quality, and infant health and development will be measured through videotaped, in-lab interactions as well as through self-report questionnaires. This project will be the largest study of hormones in new parents to date, and the first study to collect longitudinal structural and functional MRI data from fathers before and after their child's birth. The opportunity to educate parents regarding parenting and its hormonal and neural implications also makes valuable contributions.