You probably know that the Baby2Body ethos is based off our firm belief in happy, healthy mothers making for happy, healthy babies. A woman’s lifestyle behaviors in the preconception phase, throughout pregnancy, and in early postpartum have a massive impact on baby’s development in the womb and they even lay the foundation for adult health outcomes. We tell our mamas all the time that baby’s health starts with you, but it starts with someone else too: dad.
This Father’s Day we want to send a little recognition to all the Baby2Body dads out there, because they, too, play a critical role in baby’s healthy development before conception ever happens. So, this post is for all the husbands, domestic partners, or surrogates that are part of this journey with our Baby2Body mamas.
Let’s take a look at the top five ways that dad’s lifestyle can promote baby’s health, and of course the science that backs it up!
1. Nutritionally-balanced preconception diets can increase chances of conception and might reduce incidence of abnormal chromosomes being passed on
Studies have shown that men with lower levels of folic acid in their diet have higher incidences of abnormal chromosomes in their sperm. These abnormalities can lead to early miscarriage or birth defects, so it’s highly encouraged that males make sure they’re getting enough folic acid in their diet, too (as we know it’s a really important nutrient for expecting mamas!).
A well-balanced diet rich in leafy greens, lentils, and citrus fruits are great ways to ensure dad is getting the folic acid he needs. It’s worth noting that other recent studies have linked adequate levels of Omega-3 in males to improved fertility, and have also linked antioxidants to a reduction in oxidative stress on sperm.
2. Limiting heavy alcohol consumption in males can reduce the prevalence of abnormal fetal development
A recent study published in The BMJ found that men who practiced habitual alcohol consumption of more than 5 units per week experienced reduced semen quality. This was further exacerbated by heavier drinking, which has been shown to have a pronounced negative impact on chances of conceiving.
Additionally, for years, it’s been believed that only the mother’s alcohol consumption contributed to abnormal fetal development (i.e. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). But groundbreaking research has since come out establishing a link between male alcohol consumption and gene expression that can lead to abnormal organ and brain development for baby. The moral of the story here: low to moderate alcohol consumption for father’s in preconception and during pregnancy is believed to be OK, but limiting alcohol intake as much as possible is increasingly recommended for dads.
3. Healthy management of male stress levels before conception might reduce baby’s risk of chronic diseases later in life
Studies looking at how paternal stress can impact fetal development are still relatively new and have been largely conducted on mice, but the findings are worth paying attention to. The results show that when males experience higher preconception stress, their offspring are more likely to have higher blood sugar, which is linked to increased risk of diabetes.
Researchers are interested in these results because epidemiological studies (those which look at the distribution of diseases over time) have shown a link between stress and the incidence of diabetes for a long time, so it’s worth further exploring how male stress can impact offspring health at scale. What this suggests is that for dads, paying attention to ongoing stressors and learning how to effectively reduce stress might have a lasting impact on baby’s longterm health.
4. Father’s who maintain a healthy weight can benefit from better sperm quality and potentially reduce passing on longterm health consequences to their children
More and more studies are looking at paternal obesity and findings have suggested that male obesity is linked to genetic alterations that have a negative impact on sperm quality and can also lead to great risk of health complications in their offspring.
Research from a large study that just came out this year suggests that fathers with conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, or depression had an increased association of having babies who are born preterm or with low birth weights, which are both linked to: greater complications, higher likelihood of baby being admitted to the NICU after birth, and longterm health consequences including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
5. The health of the non-pregnant partner has a significant impact on the health and wellness of the mother, which subsequently impacts baby’s health as well!
Dad’s health and wellness can impact mom’s physical and mental health too — which of course impacts baby! A study in Health Psychology revealed that having a happier, healthier partner is associated with having better health oneself. It’s believed that there is a unique social component to health and fitness — and research suggests that one partner’s happiness and good health can result in their partner feeling better and staying more active! Looking at it from a different lens, other studies have shown that when men are in poorer health, there is a higher chance that their female partners will experience pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
When it comes to the mother’s mental health, the father (or whoever the other partner is!) can also play a key role. Findings suggest that a supportive and communicative relationship with one’s partner through pregnancy and after birth has been shown to reduce the risk of prenatal and postnatal mental health issues in longitudinal studies.
If you’re interested a comprehensive review on the literature that explores the important role dads play in fetal health and child development, we recommend this great 2018 read from Fatherly.
We’re wishing a very Happy Father’s Day to all our Baby2Body dads!! We hope this post is a reminder of just how important and valuable your role in all of this is too. We couldn’t do it without you.