She may have her mother’s eyes, but the more your baby resembles dad at birth might predict how healthy she’ll be a year later, according to new research from Brighamton University.
In a new study, scientists followed more than 700 families in which the babies lived primarily with their moms or lived only with their moms. They found that those infants who looked more like their father were healthier after one year than other babies - meaning they had fewer hospital and doctor visits, and were generally more healthy based on a set of medical indicators.
“Fathers are important in raising a child, and it manifests itself in the health of the child,” said Binghamton University economics professor Solomon Polachek in a news release.
The researchers think the reason is because fathers who ‘see themselves’ more in the newborn are more certain the baby is theirs (though perhaps not consciously) and are more likely to interact with, visit and care for the child.
In their study, the researchers found that fathers spent an average of 2.5 more days with their child if the baby looked more like them.
“We find a child's health indicators improve when the child looks like the father ... The main explanation is that frequent father visits allow for greater parental time for care-giving and supervision, and for information gathering about child health and economic needs,” Polachek wrote.
“It's been said that 'it takes a village' but my coauthor, Marlon Tracey, and I find that having an involved father certainly helps.”
Their findings are in line with some previous research. A much-discussed 1995 study in the journal Nature found that people were more easily able to pair infants with their fathers than their mothers, suggesting that more babies are born resembling dad than mom.
The reason? The scientists argued it was a sort of natural paternity test so fathers could quickly be sure the baby was theirs - something mothers don’t have to worry about.
Some other researchers have raised questions on that particular study, however. One study was not able to replicate the results, and another found that most babies seem to resemble both parents equally - but Brighamton researchers said they deferred to the parents themselves to make the decision, asking both in private if the baby looked more like the father or mother.
The researchers say programs working to help children in at-risk families should take the study’s findings into account.
“Greater efforts could be made to encourage these fathers to frequently engage their children through parenting classes, health education, and job training to enhance earnings,” Polachek wrote.