Father’s pre-conception health affects baby too!

Namrata Devikar
Sunday, 16 June 2019

Obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking by father can affect the health of offspring, suggests a study

Pune: There is a growing body of evidence indicating that pre-conception health of the father also affects the pregnancy and the baby. On the occasion of Father’s Day (June 16), experts share how obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking can affect the health of the offspring. 

According to a recent ‘Lancet’ study, the health of both women and men, before they even conceive a child, can have a profound impact on the health of their offspring - such as birth weight and brain development. 

Women’s health has long been known to affect her baby’s health, both prior to and at the time of pregnancy. 

Dr Vijay D’Silva, Director, Medical Affairs and Critical Care, the Asian Heart Institute, said ‘’While the changing trends in society have taken a turn, where the father is now taking up roles of the primary caregiver of their child, understanding the importance of paternal health in the development of an offspring is as important as it is in the case of maternal health.”

“Predicting the level of genetic damage in the newborn, a 2012 study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology reveals that the father-to-be, who smoke, are susceptible to passing on damaged DNA to their children, also raising the risk of cancer and congenital heart defects in the offspring. Besides, Australia, Europe and China have identified a 30 per cent increase in the rate of childhood cancers when the father smoked prior to conception,” said Dr D’Silva.

He added that the rate of lymphoma, leukaemia and brain tumours has raised up to 80 per cent higher in children under the age of five when the offspring’s father had been a smoker prior to conception, even though the mother was non-smoker.

Senior cardiologist Dr Santosh Kumar Dora added that the father must pay as much attention to his lifestyle and diet before they set out to conceive a child as the mother does.

“Harsh effects on the offspring’s growth and long-term metabolic programming have also been associated with paternal alcohol exposure as well,” said Dr Dora. 

“It has been associated with increased malformations, behavioural anomalies and growth retardation in the offspring. Abstinence and self-care go a long way in the reproduction of a healthy offspring. However, in cases of alcoholism, a father-to-be can reverse the damage of alcohol by quitting alcohol, at least three months in advance since that is how long it takes for sperm to fully develop,” added Dr Dora.

He added that despite the common belief that age affects only female fertility, there is growing evidence that sperm quality decreases as men age, starting at around 45. 

“A review by the National Health Service (NHS) of England states that if men become fathers beyond the age of 40, they face a greater risk of having children with serious illnesses as changes in the DNA may affect the child’s health. Men must thus pay attention to their age while considering family planning,” said Dr Dora.

He added that while paternal obesity affects the quality of sperm, the agency for Science, Technology and Research of Singapore has identified the father’s weight to be an important factor that combines to increase a child’s risk of obesity by up to 11-fold.

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