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Dads have a maternal instinct too! A new series analysing the science behind parenting


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Ask any mum or dad and they’ll agree that parenthood is life-changing. Gone are the lie-ins and leisurely weekend brunches, and taking their place is a helpless baby whose demands run them ragged. But they wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘Until you’re a parent you can’t describe the joy you get from it,’ says Adam, 35, a civil servant from Surrey. ‘It’s hard to remember what life was like before. It’s been a revelation.’

Adam and his wife Rachel, 33, are parents to Lily, four, and Willow, two. Willow is one of the 15 babies filmed over the first year of their lives for a 12-part Netflix documentary series, Babies, in which scientists explore the latest findings about infant development and the bond that makes parents so protective.

What’s fascinating about the show is that scientists can now explain how parental love develops. 

Adam and wife Rachel, 33, are parents to Lily, four, and Willow, two. Willow is one of the 15 babies filmed over the first year of their lives for a 12-part Netflix documentary series, Babies 

Israeli neuroscientist Dr Ruth Feldman has made new discoveries about how the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, which helps adults fall in love, is just as crucial in parent-child bonding.

Oxytocin levels rise in mothers during pregnancy and remain high until after the birth, which helps them bond with their newborns. 

But Dr Feldman was astounded when she carried out the same experiment on 80 fathers. 

‘In the first month of a baby’s life, mothers’ and fathers’ levels of oxytocin were identical, and that was a huge surprise,’ she says. 

‘We discovered that the more you do with the baby, washing and feeding, engaging in that parental role, the more your oxytocin system will activate. So fatherhood is biological, it’s as deep as motherhood.’

Pregnancy, childbirth and nursing activate the maternal brain, but it is also activated to the same extent by committed caregiving

Mothers worry more, she says, because that hormone surge activates a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions. 

‘It makes us vigilant, makes us worry about the infant,’ she says. ‘And once the amygdala is open it stays like that, no matter how old your child is.’ 

Fathers tend to worry less, but there are exceptions. Dr Feldman conducted an experiment that revealed gay fathers who were primary caregivers to their babies had amygdala activation just like mothers. 

‘We had no idea we would find that,’ she says. ‘Pregnancy, childbirth and nursing activate the maternal brain, but it is also activated to the same extent by committed caregiving.’

The series also delves into how babies learn to speak. It may sound like they’re babbling, but in fact the wheels are turning fast, says Jenny Saffran, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin. 

Her work has revealed that babies pick up which sounds go together, then acquire language through data processing. 

For example, if there’s a dog, a stick and a bone and the baby hears the word ‘dog’, then next time if there’s a dog, a shoe and a ball and the baby hears ‘dog’ it will figure out through a process of elimination which object is the dog. 

Babies are more sophisticated then first thought, the latest research found, as they start to piece together word meanings before they start learning to talk (file image)

Babies are more sophisticated then first thought, the latest research found, as they start to piece together word meanings before they start learning to talk (file image)

‘Babies are way more sophisticated than we expected,’ she says. ‘A lot of them aren’t saying any words yet, but there’s a lot going on in their heads.’

In other words, cute little babies aren’t just eating and filling their nappies, they are sophisticated beings. 

And the series will show parents that the way they nurture their offspring can make a huge difference to how they turn out. 

Another thing for parents to fret about then? Willow’s mother Rachel admits that motherhood has turned her into a worrier. 

‘I’d always been a laid-back kind of person,’ she says. ‘It’s been a surprise discovering how anxious I’ve become and that I’m constantly thinking about the children. They take over your entire brain!’ 

The first six episodes of Babies will be released on Netflix on Friday. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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