Mothers are responsible for actually growing babies, so it’s obvious that their lifestyle, diet, and environment have a huge effect on their offspring. But as we urge pregnant women to avoid eating junk food and to ditch drinking alcohol and smoking — since these choices can have a devastating impact on their fetus), it seems we are missing a vital part of baby’s health by downplaying what the father contributes to the equation. According to several new studies, it’s time we should reexamine how we view dad’s role in baby’s development and share the responsibility between both contributing parties.
Previously we reported on a study that found that what dads eat may actually play an integral role in newborn health. That study specifically focused on folate and found that, in mice, insufficient folate in dad’s diet was linked with an almost 30% increase in birth defects. Some of the newer data suggests that heavy drinking or alcoholism has a huge effect on fetal alcohol syndrome risk even if mom doesn’t drink during or before her pregnancy: having a father who drinks regularly before conception has been associated with as much as 75% of children who have fetal alcohol syndrome.
And although we often bemoan the fact that a man’s biological clock doesn’t tick quite the same way as a woman’s, paternal age has also been linked to certain risk factors. For example, children with autism were nearly six times as likely to have fathers who were 40 or older at the time of conception as compared to those of children with fathers who were under the age of 30. Increased rates of schizophrenia were also linked with advanced paternal age. Just as a recent study determined that smoking changes baby’s DNA through a process called methylation, men may also contribute some of these DNA and gene changes through their lifestyle habits as well. As this body of research grows and scientists are able to identify how dads contribute to their baby’s genes and future habits, we’re happy to shed some of the conventional mom guilt and encourage fathers-to-be to join their partners and spouses in cleaning up their lifestyle and habits before it’s time to conceive.