The belief that a pregnant woman is responsible for the well-being of her fetus is easy to understand. After all, a fetus is literally connected to its mother.
Many factors such as a mother’s physical and mental health, exposure to toxins, and whether she is well-nourished have long been recognized as determinants of newborn fitness. Yet the paternal role in producing a healthy baby is rarely considered. That’s unfortunate, because emerging science indicates that fathers play a more significant role in pregnancy outcomes than previously thought.
Most pregnant women are diligent about not drinking alcohol because medical recommendations have
consistently advised against it. Meanwhile, a growing body of research is showing that when a father drinks too much before conception, it can spark genetic changes that negatively affect the fetus.
These include low birth weight, impaired cognitive development, insulin hypersensitivity, and immune system problems in the baby. Fathers who drink too much also increase the risk of miscarriage.
Traditionally, the father’s role in reproduction focused on the preconception period — whether his sperm was potent enough to fertilize the female egg. But a British study showed that poor paternal diet low in protein can impact the heart health of the newborn. Lifestyle factors that can affect the baby’s ability to thrive also include the father’s body weight, level of exercise, stress, and use of tobacco and drugs.
Dads-to-be can do their part by eating two servings of fatty fish a week, eating a handful of nuts daily, limiting alcohol and caffeine, stop using tobacco, and avoiding soft drinks.