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There are benefits for fathers who get hands-on with baby care. (Photo: Getty Images)
Simon Cowell isn’t exactly known for his soft side, but ever since the music producer and former “American Idol” judge welcomed a son 15 months ago, he’s expressed his enthusiasm for fatherhood – with one exception.
“I still haven’t changed a nappy, but I love being a dad,” Cowell, 55, recently told Hello! magazine of his son Eric with girlfriend Lauren Silverman.
Seriously — never changed a diaper? Yet Cowell isn’t the only father with an aversion to dirty diapers. Will Farrell and Matthew McConaughey have both vocalized their refusal to hit the changing table, Gavin Rossdale has admitted that potty-related topics causes him to “slide away” and become “very interested in his Blackberry,” and Kim Kardashian, who is expecting her second child with husband Kanye West, once told Ellen DeGeneres of the rapper, “He’s not a diaper kind of guy.”
OK, these are celebrities, but even with a slew of hired help, there’s no escaping basic baby care duties for the majority of parents: 9 out of 10 fathers who live with their children change diapers, assist with feeding and bath time, and help their kids get dressed, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). It’s no surprise then, that nearly 90 percent of fathers in the study consider themselves “good” or “very good” at parenting. Study author Jo Jones, Ph.D. explains, “because others have found the more involved dads are, the better outcomes for their children.”
These hands-on dads fit into the changing landscape of fatherhood. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that 16 percent of at-home caretakers are stay-at-home dads (a 10 percent increase since 1989) with 21 percent choosing that role compared to 23 percent who assume it due to lack of employment. And a recent Today survey found that 54 percent of fathers change their children’s diapers compared to 37 percent of their own dads.
“We’re pair-bonding animals and when fathers participate in the hands-on care of their infants, it reduces testosterone, a hormone associated with aggression, and increases oxytocin, a chemical that helps foster parental attachment,” Helen Fisher, PhD., a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, tells Yahoo Parenting.
Dads can reap similar results with skin-to-skin contact, a bonding ritual that involves a parent holding a naked baby against their own bare skin. That physical contact has been proven to build a baby’s immunity and encourage brain development. And there’s a specific payoff for fathers — research published in the journal Birth found that dads who cuddled their newborns produced feel-good hormones that evoked a parental instinct. Plus, their infants cried less, felt more calm, and drifted to sleep faster than children who didn’t experience skin-to-skin. From an evolutionary perspective, physical contact with a baby also reduces the male urge to stray from romantic partners, according to Fisher.
There are even perks for men who bathe their babies. One 14-year study conducted by the University of Central London found that 30 percent of babies who missed out on tub time with dad were prone to “significant friendship problems” at school. “Dads, or father figures, have a particularly powerful influence on their child’s social competence development and so they need to know how important things like bath time are for their baby,“ study author Howard Steele, PhD., a professor of psychology, told the BBC. "The function of the father is to introduce the child to the social world beyond the mother, through assuming some of the early caregiving duties and increasingly via playful and joyful stimulation of the child’s interest.”
Participating more home also causes a romantic ripple effect — husbands who are involved with their children have happier wives. A few dirty diapers for a blissful home life? That’s a good deal.