Science and Tech


Studies show paternity leave helps fathers' brains adapt to caregiving

Parenting is not as instinctual as previously believed. What really develops parental skills, particularly in dads, is quality time with the newborn.
Man holding sleeping baby
Posted at 12:12 PM, Nov 27, 2023

Taking leave from work to spend quality time with a newborn can have a lasting impact on new fathers’ brains and their parenting instincts, according to new research. 

The Harvard Business Review noted parenting is not as instinctual as previously believed. Parenting skills come partly from the brain training itself in response to the new experience of becoming a parent – something that has been studied for decades in the maternal mind. But now, research shows similar brain training works for paternal instincts as well. 

Darby Saxbe, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, and fellow researcher Sofia Cardenas found that fathers are made, not born, and a key transition into fatherhood is marked by engaged experiences. That means more one-on-one time between a father and his infant. 

The Harvard Business Review said more hours alone with an infant resulted in greater functional neural changes in fathers. 

Saxbe’s research found that dedicated quality time during the transition into fatherhood serves as a neural workout to build muscle memory for parental challenges ahead. 

“In other words, paternity leave equals a free brain-training program,” said the Harvard Business Review. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. stands alone in the developed world in failing to guarantee paid parental leave, according to the World Policy Analysis Center and Pew Research Center

Sixty-three percent of countries around the world provide guaranteed paid parental leave for fathers. But the U.S. is not one of them, based on data from the World Policy Analysis Center. 

Additionally, only a handful of states guarantee paid parental leave, even for birth mothers. It wasn’t until 2019 that the U.S. government passed the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which guarantees 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers.  

Without guaranteed paid leave or the financial ability to take time off, Harvard Business Review suggests finding baby engagement time outside of work during their infancy to help maximize brain training. 

Maternity leave benefits unavailable to moms who deliver stillbirths
Ultrasound photo

Maternity leave benefits unavailable to moms who deliver stillbirths

According to the CDC, more than 20,000 babies are born still each year, but most states do not include stillbirth moms in paid family leave policies.