How Understanding Gender Differences in Mothers and Fathers Helps New Parents

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How Do Newborns React Differently to Mothers and Fathers?

These hormonal changes affect fathers’ desires to be involved with their newborns. But how do the infants react?

1. Psychiatrist Dr. Pruett reported in 2000 that at six weeks, infants distinguish their father’s voice from their mothers.

They prefer the mother’s voice when alert and quiet, yet prefer the father’s calming voice when upset.

If the father’s voice is more calming while the infant is upset, he could take over and give the mother a chance to step back when her baby is fussing, so she has time to understand what is upsetting the baby. Mother and father can parent together.

2. By eight weeks, pediatrician and researcher Dr. Yogman found that when infants were approached by their mothers, their heart and respiratory rates slowed, their shoulders relaxed, and their eyelids lowered.

But when fathers approached the infants, their heart and respiratory rates quickened and their eyes widened.

3. By the end of the first year, the infants protested separations from either parent less if they had an involved father.

Developmentally, an involved father delays the onset of separation anxiety in an infant.

This information is again helpful for mothers who want to encourage the baby’s father’s involvement.

4. Based on these observations, we can assume that the father draws on an infant’s desire for novelty, of experiencing something different than continuous maternal care if the mother is the primary caregiver.

5. Some fathers enjoy animating their babies and toddlers in active play that is less predictable and more disruptive than some mothers, who tend to create more repetitious, reliable patterns in picking up, holding, and feeding their infants.

Knowledge of these findings is encouraging because it helps parents understand their similarities and differences which, in turn, helps them nurture their baby.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst whose upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior will be released in October, 2015.

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