Do first born babies actually look more like their fathers?

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan Umair

Zofishan is a journalist, humour columnist, and a mum who has survived nappy explosions mid-air. She has over a decade of experience writing for print and online publications and is currently working on her first book.
Updated on Jul 02, 2024 · 5 mins read
Do first born babies actually look more like their fathers?

Personally, I believe you don't need a paternity test to prove that a firstborn daughter, who in our case is as stubborn as her dad, is just a mini-female version of him!

But it seems to be the case with most babies, boys and girls, which is upsetting because we mothers do not carry our babies for nine months only for them to come out looking like their fathers and hear everyone say, “OMG, he’s adorable. He looks just like his dad!”

So not cool, Mother Nature!

You either have a cruel sense of humor or some insanely good reason why my first baby looks like a tiny, bald version of my husband.

Why do first borns look like their father?

According to an old notion, newborns tend to be genetically predisposed to appear more like their fathers due to evolution.

Evolutionary psychology claims this made the father more likely to accept the child as his and provide for and care for them. Another argument was that it prevented him from eating the baby. These theories obviously date way, way back, long before paternity tests existed (or cannibalism was frowned upon).

Close one, mum!

The theory behind first born children resembling dad

While Scientific American disproved this theory as wrong (and perhaps insulting to the caveman dads), today’s findings on the subject of an offspring resembling their parents are contradictory.

However, one research study has found that newborns and kids in general do NOT look enough like their parents for a resemblance to be detected, except when they’re around 12 months old.

That’s when the majority look a lot like their dad.

Caring father hypothesis

Evolutionary psychologist Robert Trivers, shared his theory on the subject, which came to be known as the ‘Caring Father Hypothesis.’

The idea was that a child’s resemblance to his dad resulted in more time and attention from daddy.

Evolution again? Well, yeah!

First baby looks like daddy? Good for them!

Research conducted at Binghampton University proved that Mother Nature was indeed playing the evolution card to help newborns at birth. The study found that babies who looked like their dads at birth were healthier one year later.

That meant human offspring had more chances of survival in this world if they looked like their dad than they would if they looked like their mom.

Well played, Mother Nature! Well played!

Can infants resemble both parents equally?

A 1995 study from the University of California sought to prove the theory by matching photos of 1-year-old children with pictures of their father. The study asked 122 participants to match photos of children at 1-year, 10-years and 20-years with photos of both their mothers and fathers.

In infants, just under 50% guessed correctly for the fathers, as opposed to around 37% for the mothers. The success rates decreased significantly in 10-year-olds and rose slightly again in 20-year-olds.

A similar study in 2004 with a much larger sample size found that, in fact, most infants resemble both parents equally.

In concluding the study, co-author and psychologist at the University of Padova in Italy Paola Bressan noted that to the best of her knowledge, “no study has either replicated or supported” the findings from the 1995 study that stated babies resemble their fathers.

Scientific research versus personal experience

But even though the science isn’t there to back up the theory, why do so many of us say it rings true; that firstborns do tend to look more like their father?

Well, it’s probably because most people are going off their personal experience. But then the problem with that is, resemblances are highly subjective.

While your friends may regard your first born as a “spitting image” of their mum or pop, another may not detect any similarity at all. I mean, you’ve got to feel sorry for those babies and mothers back in the caveman days when that was all they had to go off!

We now know that children share 50% of their parent’s DNA, and there are dominant genes and recessive genes along with traits– which leaves rather a lot of room for variation. That is to say, when a baby is conceived, it inherits one copy of each gene from each parent.

The intriguing nature of genetic resemblance

We have to take into account the fact that babies grow and change so much in the first year and every year after that. Some will start as the spitting image of one parent, but as they grow, they end up looking much more like their mother.

It also begs the question, is a father who is excited about having a child more likely to see himself in his baby than one who is nervous, anxious, or not wanting it? Or will a striking resemblance shock even the most detached father into bonding with his baby?

Ultimately, the combination of genes from both parents determines the unique appearance of the child. However, it’s important to note that while genetics plays a significant role in determining physical appearance, other factors such as nutrition, environment, and lifestyle can also have an impact.


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