Fathers bring unique input to child-rearing

Fathers and mothers each play a valuable but different role in raising children, according to research published by New Scientist magazine.

The magazine cited a study looking at 80 human couples with new babies, which found that mothers and fathers made different contributions to their child’s upbringing.

Increased levels of a hormone known as the “cuddle chemical” were found in both new mothers and fathers but had a different effect on each.

The chemical, which is associated with social interaction, caused fathers to play more with their children. In mothers it led to more affectionate touching and gazing at the infant.

“Fathers and mothers contribute in a very specific and different way” to a child’s emotional and social development, according to researcher Dr Ruth Feldman, of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Dr Feldman said fathers may be “biologically programmed” to help raise children.

The magazine also reported a study into fatherhood by biologists in Montreal, Canada using a breed of mice which is usually monogomous and tends to raise offspring together.

They took away the fathers but not the mothers of the mouse pups during their first few weeks of life.

They found that the pups whose fathers were absent were less interested in engaging with other mice than would normally be the case.

“When we put two animals deprived of a father together they ignored each other”, said researcher Gabriella Gobbi at Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre.

Previous studies have shown that the daughters of absent fathers are more prone to early sexual activity than their peers, while their sons have lower self-esteem.

In April campaigners warned that fathers were being sidelined as new rules were introduced allowing a mother who has a child through fertility treatment to designate anyone she wishes to be the ‘second parent’.

Two women in a lesbian relationship can now both be named as the ‘parents’ on the birth certificate of a child born to one of them.

Professor Lisa Jardine, who chairs the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said the move was “levelling the playing field” for same-sex couples.

Earlier this week a lesbian couple secured NHS funding for IVF treatment after the Primary Care Trust which had initially refused them backed down.

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