Dad Bod: How Fatherhood Can Change Men's Bodies

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When it comes to pregnancy, the focus is generally on women’s changing bodies. Sure, fathers-to-be may pack on a few pounds during their partners’ pregnancies and beyond, but most people call this “sympathy weight,” not a phenomenon with a true biological basis.

According to Dominic Fano, D.O., a family medicine specialist at Henry Ford Health System, there are plenty of reasons why men might notice their own figures morph when they have a kid — and it’s not just their bodies that are changing.

What’s Behind “Dad Bod”?

There’s a biochemical reason why so many new dads report feeling more emotional and sensitive in the months and years after welcoming a new baby. “Having a baby actually makes your brain bigger — and bigger brains make more hormones,” Dr. Fano says. Some men even develop a condition called Couvade Syndrome, where they experience the same pregnancy symptoms as their partners.

The key biochemicals at play include:

  • Oxytocin: Known as the bonding hormone, oxytocin unleashes a cascade of activity in the brain that plays a key role in creating closeness in relationships. “Oxytocin can lead fathers to become more caring and nurturing,” says Dr. Fano.
  • Dopamine: Known as the brain’s reward chemical, dopamine is the primary culprit in addiction. The dopamine dump you get when you become a new parent drives you back to your baby with every coo, burp and bowel movement.
  • Testosterone: When your brain is busy churning out oxytocin and dopamine, testosterone levels tend to take a nosedive. The drop in testosterone not only leads to decreased muscle mass, but it may also impact energy levels. Add nightly takeout and comfort calories to the mix, and it’s no wonder so many new dads gain weight.

Simple aging is also responsible for men’s changing bodies. “Between the ages of 30 and 55, men’s weight continues to rise — and that weight gain is more significant among fathers,”Dr. Fano explains. “From a medical standpoint, men need to be aware of that shift because it could be something we can redirect.”

Reclaiming Your Pre-Parental Body

Welcoming a new baby can trigger seismic lifestyle shifts. Maybe you used to work out regularly but now can’t make time for exercise. Or you cooked clean meals several nights each week pre-baby but now you’re hitting a drive-thru on your way home from work. Or maybe your six hours of consecutive sleep has dwindled to four.

No matter what your “new normal” has become, every new father should schedule a wellness visit with his physician, according to Dr. Fano. Too-low testosterone levels can lead to mild-to-moderate depression. Hormonal changes may also impact blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which can increase a man’s risk of developing chronic conditions down the road. In both cases, lifestyle strategies, including dietary changes and exercise, can help counter the impact.

Most important, remember parental weight is associated with childhood weight. If you eat a clean diet, exercise regularly and strive to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, your child is likely to follow suit. In cases like these, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.


To find a doctor or mental health professional at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

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Dr. Dominic Fano is a family medicine doctor who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Troy.

Categories: FeelWell