The phenomenon known as "baby fever" is a topic loosely tossed around in conversations among 20-somethings for a variety of reasons. Whether it's a way to explain the intense need to smell the top of a baby's head, a desire to start your own family, or to simply let people know you have no desire to parent, the phrase is bound to come up. And if you're experiencing baby fever in your 20s, know that you're not alone and that, well, experts might be able to tell you why.
"Baby fever is a romantic description of an emotional reaction,” Dr. Edward Marut of Fertility Centers of Illinois, an OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, tells Romper. Marut says that when a woman feels an "intense longing to have a baby, the longing likely releases oxytocin from the brain."
Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” is most commonly linked to “maternal behavior, lactation, selective social bonding, and sexual pleasure” according to the American Psychological Association. So if a woman longs for a baby, and oxytocin is released, she is likely to associate the idea of having a baby with a positive feeling.
"The deeply intense desire to have a baby known as 'baby fever' is a real phenomenon," Ashlee Binns, a fertility specialist with Fifth Avenue Fertility Wellness in New York City, and who has a doctorate in acupuncture and oriental medicine, tells Romper. Binns says researchers at Kansas State University studied "baby fever" in 2011, and found that not only does it exist, but that baby fever exists in both men and women.
"Men can also have baby fever, because it is a psychological and emotional reaction to the desire to parent," Marut confirms. In fact, a study published in the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press found that a man’s desire to have a child actually increases with age.
So, what causes baby fever, exactly? Binns says there are three factors that Kansas State University researchers uncovered, which "include having positive interactions with babies, like playing and cuddling," and whether or not someone has had negative exposure to babies, "like spit up and tantrums" which "dampens the desire to have a baby."
The third factor is how someone views the "trade offs" of parenthood. "Those with baby fever see only the positive impacts on their life," Binn says. Birth rates decline in times of economic recession, according to the Pew Research Center, so things like the financial impact of a child, a person’s access to adequate and affordable health care, etc., or how they believe a baby will impact their quality of live, can all impact whether or not a person feels the desire to have a child.
"It is also thought that social and familial factors can be an influence as well,” Binn continues. “When people are around friends and families with babies, it can trigger that urge to have one, too."
More than half of Americans, ages 18 to 40, already have children, and 40% of Americans who don't have children hope to have some in the future, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. So while millennial women are having kids less frequently, the desire to have children is still considered to be the "norm" in the United States.
And it’s the idea that parenthood is a “normal” milestone in life that is probably contributing to your baby fever instead of, say, hormones. As Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OB-GYN, told The Cut’s Edith Zimmerman, “To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a hormonal surge leading to an urge to conceive [during this phase of life]. There is some more hormonal variability as we get older -- with a decline in overall estrogen and progesterone levels -- but that doesn’t lead to any biological urges that I know of.”
If you’re experiencing baby fever in your 20s, chances are it’s because you’ve analyzed the cost/benefit of having a child and have had some memorable and positive interactions with babies in the past. You’ve probably come across a baby announcement or two as well, which is likely impacting your desire to be a parent. One thing is for certain, though: what you’re experiencing is real.
Dr. Edward Marut, OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, Fertility Centers of Illinois
Ashlee Binns, fertility specialist with Fifth Avenue Fertility Wellness
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