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Dads importances to baby’s development

Research also shows a supportive spouse lowers cortisol levels in new moms

By Nicole Letourneau and Gerald Giesbrecht

CALGARY, AB/ Troy Media/ – It’s almost Father’s Day, a time when many of us reflect warmly on the role our fathers and grandfathers have played in our lives. It’s no secret that dads are important, and that their role as caregivers has, for many families, broadened in the last 50 years. But there’s one period of our development where dads tend to take a back seat – the first nine months, to be precise.

While still in the womb, babies are generally considered to be the mother’s domain. Fathers are often relegated to a small supporting role: they help around the house, maybe massage mom’s aching back, and cater to cravings, but ultimately they’re seen as just another observer. However, a growing body of research shows us that fathers can have a much deeper influence on their children in utero than previously expected.

Recently, we and several researchers conducted a study examining what effect support from spouses had on pregnant mothers’ responses to stress. To do this, we asked participating mothers a series of questions assessing the support they get from their husbands/partners: how much of it, how easily they provided it, and how effective it was at getting them through life’s challenges.

Next, we collected a series of saliva samples from mothers at various times of day. These samples provide a relatively non-intrusive way to measure levels of cortisol, a hormone generated by the body in times of stress. During collection periods, mothers answered more questions, these ones assessing their level of psychological distress, defined as feelings of anger, anxiety, depression or fatigue.

Through our data, we observed the relationship between the stress hormone cortisol and psychological distress. Sure enough, when mothers were distressed, their samples showed higher levels of cortisol – but only if they also scored low on measures of support from their partners. Moms with supportive spouses showed consistently low cortisol levels, regardless of how upset they may have been when the sample was taken.

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How responsible are we for our children’s happiness?

Over the last month the subject of “how responsible are we for our children’s happiness” has been the dominate theme of a number of our discussions in two of our groups at the Fathers’ Forum in Berkeley, California. In our busy fast-pacing lives it is often the best we can do to get through the day with all the activities and responsibilities of being mothers and fathers. Here is an excellent video from PBS News Hour on “How parenting evolved into cultivating kids’ happiness.”

The Fathers’ Forum is dedicated to helping dads develop their individual and unique styles of the great balancing act of “life and work balance.”  We are committed to supporting men having discussions about fatherhood and parenting.

Dads who want to join in a discussion about their journey as a father can visit our social networking site to post comments, insights and opinions.


I encourage you to watch this video with your wife, husband or partner…share your thoughts with each other. If you are interested in more information about Jennifer Senior’s book… All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood