A mom is a baby’s first love. We know that a woman’s health and lifestyle (pre-conception health) practices such as smoking, drinking alcohol or increased stress levels can have a great impact on her chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. Research now claims that a dad’s pre-conception health too impacts pregnancy and baby health. A man’s diet, alcohol consumption, smoking and age may result in infants born with autism, birth defects, mental illnesses and other problems. Three different research papers published in ‘The Lancet’ journal details how the health of both a man and his wife affect the health of their offspring’s brain development and birth weight even before conceiving.
Preconception health is the health of men and women during their reproductive years. Mostly confined to women, only now people are becoming aware that a man’s health too is equally critical to help them become proud parents of a health baby. From a man’s perspective, preconception health helps him get healthy and stay so, encourage his wife to become healthy and as a father, it credits him of protecting his child against birth defects and diseases. This period can be seen from three different perspectives: from a biological view which indicates the days or weeks before embryo development; from an individual’s perspective as the period of wanting to conceive and go the family way and from a public perspective in terms of population as the woman is of childbearing age. The research also shows that underweight/overweight women prove to be a great risk factor for maternal and child health.
An in-and-out analysis of BMI among 19 million adults across 200 countries found that percentage of women suffering from underweight problems decreased from 15% to 10% by 2014 but those affected by obesity/overweight problems climbed up the ladder from 6% to 15% by 2014. Almost 50% of women in several countries suffer from overweight/obesity at the time of their pregnancy.
Beyond Sperm Health
A man’s job doesn’t get over once he passes healthy sperms to the ovary for the ovulation process. There are several important things beyond quality of sperms that affect pregnancy health. As the dad’s genes play a significant role in the development of the placenta and its nourishment, a man’s role in supporting his wife through pregnancy period, how he handles prenatal care for his wife-supporting her or troubling her during the period and any presence of sexually transmitted diseases can make or break the health of the infant.
The research conducted in-depth analysis relating a mother’s overweight/obesity, a mother’s underweight, paternal factors and the use of ART (assistive reproductive technology) for disease risk. Results proved that poor maternal and paternal physiology, body composition, metabolism and diet during the preconception period is a gateway to chronic diseases in offspring. Children born with the help of ART are at an increased risk of rare genetic imprinting disorders (affects nervous system) compared to children born of natural conception. When obesity is the cause for infertility, ART is not needed in such case and the parents can naturally conceive. Visit the website www.firsteatright.com to know more about tackling obesity with proper nutrition, regular exercise and lifestyle changes which promote the chances of pregnancy.
Pregnancy period is divided into three trimesters and some people even refer to the period after child birth as the fourth trimester. Why not consider the preconception period as the zero trimester? A man’s health during the zero trimester seriously impacts the baby’s health. Some key factors that cause such a lasting impact include:
Age: Children born to fathers above the age of 40 are at an increased risk of autism, schizophrenia, Down’s syndrome and heart problems. As the dad’s age increases, the risk factor too goes up.
Diet: Obese men mostly father children who tend to grow up with obesity along with diabetes, abnormal metabolism and certain cancers as obesity and improper nutrition cause certain gene changes that are directly linked to these diseases.
Alcohol: Studies show fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in children born to fathers who regularly consume alcohol. Such kids may be born with a low birth weight, impaired brain development or learning disabilities. Irrespective of whether a mother consumes alcohol or not, dad’s alcohol consumption habit can impact a child’s genes.
Stress: Studies do show that increased stress levels in dads can nurture children with behavior problems and increased stress levels. Stress in men can even lead to depression sometimes when their baby is yet to arrive.
There needs to be a hardcore intervention strategy aimed at improving the preconception health of fathers. One study reported that almost 40% fathers were never questioned while accompanying their partners to prenatal care visits. Physicians who express concern over preconception care for women should show similar interest in the preconception care for men to benefit the health of the man, woman and the baby involved in the conception process.
Fathers-to-be too must ensure good self-care of their health and lead a clean lifestyle that keeps their stress levels to the minimal and benefits their baby to the maximal.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.