Unless it’s about late life low testosterone levels, we don’t usually put much thought into the hormonal cycle of a man. But male hormones can be just as sensitive as women’s — and new research now suggests that just as expecting mothers go through mood swings, food cravings, and weight gain, expecting men go through their own hormonal rite of fatherhood: a drop in testosterone just before a baby is born.
At the University of Michigan, psychologist Dr. Robin Edelstein and her colleagues looked at saliva samples of 29 first-time expecting fathers at various points before their partner’s pregnancy; they found a decline in testosterone and estradiol as the due date approached. The drop is slight enough it isn’t considered a clinical problem, but it may have its impact. “Men may not necessarily notice the changes themselves,” Edelstein says. “But lower levels of testosterone could contribute to men being more nurturing and caring with their infants, and possibly even with their partners.”
A larger study published in 2011 backs up this finding, showing that men who settled down with children experienced larger plummets in testosterone than their bachelor friends (who experienced only the normal, age-related decline). Following up with the men several years later, the researchers found that when a father increased his involvement in childcare, his testosterone went down, while if he decreased his care giving, it went up.
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Other factors could explain the hormonal changes in expecting fathers, says Dr. Joseph Alukal, a urologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center, like a man’s sleep levels, his health and socioeconomic status, whether he exercised more or ate less during or just before fatherhood. Researchers have also long known that testosterone levels drop naturally as men age, which may also explain the decline. Edelstein also notes that her study did not compare the expecting father’s testosterone levels with non-expecting fathers as a control group – something future studies will look into.
“There are a lot of other things we can account for hormonal changes,” says Alukal. “The things people have shown repeatedly, and in very large studies, that you can bank on are inadequate sleep, increased work-place stress, decreased exercise, eating like crap, and too much exercise.” And keeping your hormones in check is a matter of common sense, he adds. The signs of an imbalance include feeling unusually exhausted, an upsurge of mood swings, noticing a new intolerance for exercise, the inability to maintain your normal body weight, and a decreased interest in sex. While these feelings could have other clinical explanations, Alukal says he first makes sure there isn’t a much simpler explanation for his patient’s conditions: a hormonal imbalance.