How Men’s Bodies Change When They Become Fathers

Hint: They don’t just get ‘dad bods’ but men’s bodies change.

Men’s bodies change when they become fathers.  As an anthropologist who studies human fatherhood at the University of Oxford, I’ve run up against a widespread and deeply ingrained belief among fathers: that because their bodies haven’t undergone the myriad biological changes associated with pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, they’re not as biologically and psychologically “primed” for caretaking as women are.men's bodies change

As a result, they feel less confident and question their abilities to parent: Will they be “good” parents? Will they bond with their babies? How will they know what to do?

As my own personal and professional experiences dictate, the idea that fathers are biologically “less prepared” for parenthood is unlikely to be true. Much of the role of parenting is not instinctual for anyone. (I remember the steep learning curve of those first days of motherhood — learning what each of my baby’s cries meant, mastering the quick diaper change and juggling the enormous amount of equipment necessary just to make it out the door.)

And while the biological changes fathers undergo are not as well understood (nor as outwardly dramatic) as those of mothers, scientists are just beginning to find that both men and women undergo hormonal and brain changes that herald this key transition in a parent’s life.

In essence, being a dad is as biological a phenomenon as being a mom.

Testosterone seems to dip

Take testosterone, the stereotypically “male” hormone that plays important roles in male fetal development and puberty. Testosterone is largely responsible for motivating men to find partners and, studies suggest, men with higher levels of testosterone tend to be more attractive to potential mates. But being a successful human father means focusing inward on the family and resisting the drive to seek out another partner. So, experts believe, men have evolved for some of that testosterone to go.

In a pioneering five-year study published in 2011, for instance, Dr. Lee Gettler, Ph.D., an American anthropologist, followed a group of 624 single, childless men in the Philippines from age 21 to 26. Dr. Gettler found that while all men in the study experienced normal, age-related dips in testosterone, the 465 men who became dads during that five-year period experienced a more significant drop — an average 34 percent (when measured at night) — than those who remained single or married.

Globally, study after study — including my own unpublished findings in the United Kingdom — have found similar results, noting that this reduction in testosterone can happen just before and just after the birth of a man’s first child. And while it isn’t clear exactly what prompts this drop, Dr. Gettler said that his own preliminary results suggest that the more dramatic the drop, the bigger effect it seems to have on a man’s caregiving behavior. “We found that if brand new fathers had lower testosterone the day after their babies were born,” said Dr. Gettler, “they did more caregiving and baby-related household tasks months later.”

While news of this drop in testosterone is often greeted with groans of resignation from men — choose fatherhood and choose the road to emasculation, they think — some studies have suggested that the lower a man’s testosterone, the more likely he is to release key reward and bonding hormones, namely oxytocin and dopamine, when interacting with his child. Caring for your child, therefore, produces not only a strong bond but a neurochemical reward, inducing feelings of happiness, contentment and warmth — a welcome trade-off.

Brains seem to change

The brain also appears to undergo structural changes to ensure that fathers exhibit the key skills of parenting. In 2014, Dr. Pilyoung Kim, Ph.D., a developmental neuroscientist at The University of Denver, put 16 new dads into an M.R.I. machine: once between the first two to four weeks of their baby’s life, and again between 12 and 16 weeks. Dr. Kim found brain changes that mirrored those previously seen in new moms: Certain areas within parts of the brain linked to attachment, nurturing, empathy and the ability to interpret and react appropriately to a baby’s behavior had more gray and white matter between 12 and 16 weeks than they did between two and four weeks.

NYTimes.com, By Anna Machin, June 13, 2019

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Opinion – What Happened to All Those Frozen Eggs?

Frozen Eggs was supposed to be as revolutionary as birth control. It hasn’t lived up to the hype — but it has still changed women’s lives.

Frozen eggs – The potential for egg freezing to allow women to pause their biological clocks is one of the most astonishing developments of recent fertility science. The promise was thrilling: Women could enjoy more time to find the right partners, break up with the wrong ones and become emotionally and financially ready to become mothers.Egg Donations

Enthusiasts even fantasized the technology would promote gender equality by giving women control over their fertility so that they wouldn’t have to scale back their career ambitions during their 20s and 30s. “Freeze Your Eggs. Free Your Career” blared a 2014 cover of Bloomberg Businessweek.

When Facebook and Apple announced that same year that they would pay for egg freezing for employees in a “game-changing perk,” Apple said in a statement, “We want to empower women at Apple to do the best work of their lives as they care for loved ones and raise their families.”

Egg freezing was an act of self-care — and professional advancement — for the modern woman.

“All the talk in the beginning was about how egg freezing would be as big as the birth control pill and liberate women,” said Janet Takefman, a reproductive health psychologist at McGill University in Montreal, who has counseled more than 200 women considering egg freezing.

And women responded to this promise. In 2009, the first year the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology started collecting egg freezing data, 475 women went through the procedure, in which an average of 10 eggs are surgically removed and preserved in liquid nitrogen after 10 days of hormonal stimulation. In 2017, more than 9,000 women froze their eggs.

Now we have a chance to look back and ask: Did egg freezing live up to its hype?

The most obvious question is whether egg freezing worked by allowing women to have children later. Although SART collects data on pregnancy rates using frozen eggs, it doesn’t break out whether women had frozen them as part of in vitro fertilization treatment or fertility preservation during illness, or to delay childbearing. So I contacted four fertility clinics that have been in the field the longest to find out. (I froze my eggs at two of them and haven’t yet thawed.)

nytimes.com, by Sarah Elizabeth Roberts, December 21, 2019
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Opinion – The Big IVF Add-On Racket

IVF Add Ons – This is no way to treat patients desperate for a baby.

There are few things as unsettling as sitting in an in vitro fertilization clinic hearing you need a team of experts — embryologists, lab techs and nurses along with a reproductive endocrinologist — to help you become pregnant.embryo

What comes next can be a blur. First, you meet with the clinic’s financial counselor to assess whether you have enough money for a complex, invasive $15,000-$20,000 IVF cycle. What follows are drug injections, blood tests, invasive ultrasounds, surgical egg retrieval, and fertilization ahead of an embryo transfer. Before your first hormone shot, you’re well into head-spinning, unfamiliar territory.

Then the doctor tells you there are “add-ons” you might want to consider.

Might you have interest in endometrial scratching? What about vasodilation, human growth hormones, intralipids, assisted hatching, oocyte activation, physiological intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or embryo glue? Post-fertilization, there is also embryo pre-implantation genetic testing to consider. Interested?

These extras come with price tags ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. All are presented as ways to increase your chances of a pregnancy. What are you willing to try? What can you afford? The ball is in your court.

This is no way to treat patients at their most vulnerable.

That’s the conclusion my colleagues and I arrive at in a new paper on the ethics and regulation of IVF add-ons.

An add-on is anything that is not essential to carry out an IVF cycle. Such measures, patients are told, will improve the likelihood of a live birth — and yet our examination revealed a startling absence of robust research into the effectiveness and the safety of these add-ons. Despite this, their use is widespread, and regulation of them is minimal.

The most expensive add-on category is pre-implantation genetic testing. These tests were originally developed to identify embryos at risk for genetic diseases. Today, however, they are primarily sold, at a cost of $6,000 to $12,000, as a way to screen for chromosomal abnormalities that could lead to failed implantation or miscarriages.

In October, however, a large study found that a single abnormal cell does not doom an embryo and determined that one of the tests, PGT-A, made no difference to rates of live births. Worse still, patients who opted not to transfer embryos based on the test’s results may have lost potentially viable ones.

There is also endometrial scratching, a procedure, sometimes costing as much as $500, that purposely irritates the endometrium, the innermost lining of the uterus, before IVF While it’s promoted as increasing the chance of an embryo implanting, a recent large randomized trial found no benefit. Beyond significant patient discomfort, risks include bleeding, infection and uterine perforation.

Then there are intralipids, an emulsion of soybean oil, egg phospholipids and glycerin administered intravenously and described as a way to decrease natural killer cell activation in the immune system and ostensibly aid in embryo implantation. This emulsion is priced around $400 per infusion; typically several are recommended. Side effects include headache, dizziness, flushing, nausea and the possibility of clotting or infection. A meta-analysis last year found that intralipids and other forms of immunotherapy should not be used in routine clinical practice.

Such procedures are often presented to patients in the form of a stack of papers, written in legalese or medical jargon. Resourceful patients might take to the internet to learn more, where searches might deliver densely written scientific articles, and ads might direct them to companies or clinics eager to promote their own brands of add-ons.

Why is all this happening? It’s because IVF remains an under-regulated arena, and entrepreneurial doctors and pharmaceutical and life science companies are eager to find new ways to cash in on a growing global market that is projected to be as large as $40 billion by 2024.

NYTimes.com, December 12, 2019 by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos

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Sperm Tail-Tracking Technique Could Improve Male Fertility Testing

Sperm tail-tracking technique analyses how sperm tails move and consume energy.

Tracking the movement of a sperm’s tail, or sperm tail-tracking, could improve male fertility testing and lead to more effective treatments, according to a new study. sperm tail tracking

The technique developed by researchers at the University of Birmingham, works by measuring the speed and action of the sperm flagellum, or tail.

By analysing the tail, it is possible to decipher whether the sperm in an ejaculate have the potential to reach and fertilise the egg, they said as they published their findings in the journal Human Reproduction.

Currently, analysing sperm is either done by counting the number of sperm produced or by tracking the head of the cell.

However, “diagnostic methods are crude and there are still no drugs available for treating male infertility,” said researcher Jackson Kirkman Brown MBE.

The new sperm tail-tracking technique uses a combination of rapid, high-throughput digital imaging, mathematics and fluid dynamics to detect and track sperm in samples.

To ensure the method is accessible to other researchers and clinicians, the team have developed a free-to-use software called FAST (flagellar capture and sperm tracking).

This will lead to an improved understanding of male fertility problems, and how to treat them, the researchers said. 

“We have all heard of ‘sperm count’, and indeed the tools available to understand sperm – manual counting with a microscope – have not changed much since the 1950s,” said lead researcher Professor Dave Smith.

TheIndependent.co.uk, by Chelsea Ritschel, June 7, 2019

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House of Lords approves LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education

The House of Lords has given its backing to new LGBT-inclusive guidance on compulsory relationships and sex education in English schools.

The House of Lords gave approval to new government guidance on relationships and LGBT inclusive sex education late on Wednesday (April 24), a month after the plan passed through the House of Commons by a vote of 538 to 21.LGBT inclusive sex education

The regulations passed through the Lords without a formal division due to overwhelming support, paving the way for the guidance to come into effect in schools for September 2020.

Education minister Lord Agnew of Oulton said: “There is no reason why teaching children about the diverse society that we live in, and the different types of loving and healthy relationships, cannot be done in a way that respects everybody’s views.

“Schools should ensure that the needs of all pupils are appropriately met and that all pupils understand the importance of equality and respect, in particular respect for difference.

“The new guidance is clear on the teaching about LGBT relationships expected in secondary schools and encouraged in primary while retaining the flexibility for head teachers to respond to the needs of their own schools.”

In a moving speech during the debate, gay Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven revealed he contemplated suicide as a teenager due to homophobia, and said he hopes the new LGBT-inclusive guidance helps others like him.

He said: “A lot has been spoken about the theory of relationships education, and people coming to terms with who they are and understanding the modern world.

“I was one of those 15 year olds who looked over the edge and contemplated suicide. Stories about the real world are far more important than theory.”

pinknews.co.uk, by Nick Duffy, April 25, 2019

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Parents can use sperm harvested from their dead son to make grandchildren, judge rules

West Point cadet Peter Zhu, who was unmarried, died after a skiing accident on February 23, Judge allows parent to use harvested sperm.

He had been found unresponsive on a ski slope on the grounds of the military academy in upstate New York.  Zhu was then taken to a hospital, where he was declared brain dead days later.  Judge now rules that parents may use their son’s harvested sperm.harvested sperm

In March, his parents petitioned the court to allow the hospital to have their son’s  harvested sperm retrieved and frozen at the same time harvest his organs for donation.

The petition was granted and the sperm was preserved at a sperm bank after the retrieval.  His organs were also harvested to help those waiting for a lifesaving transplant before he was buried in the West Point Cemetery.

According to CNN, the Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo’s ruling gave Zhu’s parents the ability to attempt conception with a surrogate mother using their late son’s sperm.  “At this time, the court will place no restrictions on the use to which Peter’s parents may ultimately put their son’s sperm, including its potential use for procreative purposes,” Colangelo wrote.  “They shall possess and control the disposition and potential use of their son Peter’s genetic material.” 

Zhu’s case isn’t the first incident of this type, according to AP.In 2007, a court in Iowa authorized recovery of a man’s sperm by his parents to donate to his fiance for future procreative use.  In 2009, a Texas woman got a judge’s permission to have her 21-year-old son’s sperm extracted after his death, with the intention of hiring a surrogate mother to bear her a grandchild.

StandardMedia.com, May 30, 2019, by Charles Odero

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Making Babies in the Year 2045 – Genetic Data

Huge pools of Genetic data collected over the past generation allow you to pick many of your child’s genetic traits. Are you comfortable with that?

genetic defect

The year is 2045. The genomes of four billion humans have been sequenced, creating a huge pool of genetic information accessible to researchers. This process had been well underway in 2019, but accelerated rapidly once many countries realized that understanding human biology was the ultimate big data problem and a key to reducing health care costs and enhancing national competitiveness. Widely sharing deeply personal health information had alarmed privacy advocates. But supporters of sharing genetic data argued convincingly that the benefits to society outweighed the privacy concerns of individuals. The debate may have once seemed abstract. But now you are in a fertility clinic and the issues are fast becoming real.

The cascade of numbers overwhelms you as the doctor splashes the spreadsheet across the digital walls of her office.

“I hope you can see the wonder and possibility in these figures,” she says, trying to put you at ease.

As you sit in the spa-like clinic, it’s hard to imagine it was just last week when your assistant placed the miniature device on your arm that painlessly suctioned out a small amount of blood and started you on this journey. The spark of life that used to begin in bedrooms and the back seats of cars was now migrating out of the human body and into the lab.

“Take your time,” the doctor continues. “You need to first select the early- stage embryo optimal for you. The numbers across the top list the 300 options for you that we’ve prescreened from the initial 10,000. The column down the left lists all the disorders and traits influenced by genetics that we have some ability to predict. The numbers populating the chart are our best predictions for how the genetic component of each trait would be realized if we selected based on that trait alone. We’re looking for high composite scores emphasizing the qualities most important to you.”

You scan the lists on the walls wondering if a human being can really be reduced to numbers. “Can you really predict all of these traits?” you ask.

“These are all probabilities, not certainties,” the doctor says. “Not all traits are equally genetic. And genetics is a trade-off, so we can’t choose to optimize every trait. Thirty years ago we could mostly just identify disorders determined by a single genetic mutation, but in 2018 we started using what we call ‘polygenic scoring’ to make better predictions about diseases and traits influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes. 

“Our biology is still about as complex as it’s been for millions of years but the technology we’re using to understand it is getting exponentially more sophisticated,” she continues. “There may be magic in humans, but we aren’t made of magic. Our DNA is a type of source code we’re learning how to read and write.”

The idea of humans as hackable data sets may be increasingly common but still unsettles you. The numbers on the wall seem to confirm the doctor’s words. “And this 60 means that embryo would be good at math?” you ask, pointing to one of the options on the list.

NYTimes.com, by Jamie Metzl, April 10, 2019

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The relationship between LGBT inclusion and economic development: Macro-level evidence

This study analyzes the relationship between social inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and economic development.

gay money

It uses legal and economic data for 132 countries from 1966 to 2011. Previous studies and reports provide substantial evidence that LGBT people are limited in their human rights in ways that also create economic harms, such as lost labor time, lost productivity, underinvestment in human capital, and the inefficient allocation of human resources. This analysis uses a fixed effects regression approach and a newly-created dataset – Global Index on Legal Recognition of Homosexual Orientation (GILRHO) – to assess how these detriments are related to the macroeconomy. Our study finds that an additional point on the 8-point GILRHO scale of legal rights for LGB persons is associated with an increase in real GDP per capita of approximately $2000. A series of robustness checks confirm that this index continues to have a positive and statistically significant association with real GDP per capita after controlling for gender equality. In combination with the qualitative evidence from previous studies and reports, our quantitative results suggest that LGBT inclusion and economic development are mutually reinforcing. Also, a back-of-the-envelope estimate suggests that about 6% to 22% of the finding could reflect the costs to GDP of health and labor market stigmatization of LGB people. Results from this study can help to better understand how the fuller enjoyment of human rights by LGBT people can contribute to a country’s economic development.

ScienceDriect.com, April 11, 2019

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AI COULD SCAN IVF EMBRYOS TO HELP MAKE BABIES MORE QUICKLY

Embryo AI

IF A WOMAN (or non-female-identifying person with a uterus and visions of starting a family) is struggling to conceive and decides to improve their reproductive odds at an IVF clinic, they’ll likely interact with a doctor, a nurse, and a receptionist, not an AI specialist. They will probably never meet the army of trained embryologists working behind closed lab doors to collect eggs, fertilize them, and develop the embryos bound for implantation.

One of embryologists’ more time-consuming jobs is grading embryos—looking at their morphological features under a microscope and assigning a quality score. Round, even numbers of cells are good. Fractured and fragmented cells, bad. They’ll use that information to decide which embryos to implant first.

It’s more gut than science and not particularly accurate. Newer methods, like pulling off a cell to extract its DNA and test for abnormalities, called preimplantation genetic screening, provide more information. But that tacks on additional costs to an already expensive IVF cycle and requires freezing the embryos until the test results come back. Manual embryo grading may be a crude tool, but it’s noninvasive and easy for most fertility clinics to carry out. Now, scientists say, an algorithm has learned to do all that time-intensive embryo ogling even better than a human.

In new research published today in NPJ Digital Medicine, scientists at Cornell University trained an off-the-shelf Google deep learning algorithm to identify IVF embryos as either good, fair, or poor, based on the likelihood each would successfully implant. This type of AI—the same neural network that identifies faces, animals, and objects in pictures uploaded to Google’s online services—has proven adept in medical settings. It has learned to diagnose diabetic blindness and identify the genetic mutations fueling cancerous tumor growth. IVF clinics could be where it’s headed next.

“All evaluation of the embryo as it’s done today is subjective,” says Nikica Zaninovic, director of the embryology lab at Weill Cornell Medicine, where the research was conducted. In 2011, the lab installed a time-lapse imaging system inside its incubators, so its technicians could watch (and record) the embryos developing in real time. This gave them something many fertility clinics in the US do not have—videos of more than 10,000 fully anonymized embryos that could each be freeze-framed and fed into a neural network. About two years ago, Zaninovic began Googling to find an AI expert to collaborate with. He found one just across campus in Olivier Elemento, director of Weill Cornell’s Englander Institute for Precision Medicine.

wired.com by Megan Molteni, April 4, 2019

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Americans Show Broad Support for LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections

Across Lines of Party, Demographics, and Geography, Americans Broadly Support Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBT People

gay america

Americans remain supportive of broad nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Nearly seven in ten (69%) Americans favor laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the job market, public accommodations, and housing.

Support by Age Group

Younger Americans are 17 percentage points more likely than older Americans to say they support laws protecting LGBT people from various forms of discrimination. More than three-quarters (76%) of younger Americans (ages 18-29) favor such laws, compared to (59%) of seniors (ages 65 and older).

Support by Political Party and Ideology

Support for nondiscrimination protections enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. Majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (70%), and Republicans (56%) say they favor laws that would shield LGBT people from various kinds of discrimination. While support among Democrats and independents has remained relatively constant, Republican support for these provisions has fallen five percentage points over the past few years, down from (61%)  in 2015.

Majorities of liberals (81%), moderates (76%), and conservatives (55%) all favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

Ideological differences are more pronounced among Democrats and independents than among Republicans. The biggest intra-party divide is among Democrats: Liberal Democrats (87%) are likelier than moderate (76%) and conservative (61%) Democrats to favor nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT people. Liberal (79%) and moderate (78%) independents are also likelier than conservative independents (58%) to support nondiscrimination protections.

Notably, self-identified moderate Republicans (69%) are likelier than self-identified liberal Republicans (59%) or conservative Republicans (53%) to favor laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Conservative Democrats (61%) are about as likely as liberal Republicans (59%) to favor nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

PRRI.org, March 12, 2019 by
Daniel GreenbergEmma BeyerMaxine Najle, PhDOyindamola BolaRobert P. Jones, PhD

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