New Study Says Babies Aren’t a Blank Slate

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how to give your baby a head start even before conceptionThe moment I learned I was pregnant, I started following all of the “rules”—making healthier choices and adhering to all the doctor recommendations in order to give my son a strong start in life.

That’s all well and good, but a new study published in the journal Science says giving kids that strong start actually begins much earlier—before they’re even conceived. 

Researchers found that during conception, the egg and sperm contribute not only genetic material, but also stored environmental information. For those of us who aren’t scientists, this basically means that parents’ lifestyle choices have an influence on their kiddos even before that egg and sperm come together—potentially leading to a higher risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and immune dysfunction.

Professor Sarah Robinson, one of the study’s authors, explained it this way:

“People used to think that it didn’t matter, because a child represented a new beginning, with a fresh start. The reality is, we can now say with great certainty that the child doesn’t quite start from scratch—they already carry over a legacy of factors from their parents’ experiences that can shape development in the fetus and after birth.”

And here’s the kicker:

“Depending on the situation, we can give our children a burden before they’ve even started life.”

Ugh. Another guilt trip for moms?

Not surprisingly, reading about this research left me feeling a bit gloomy, and I originally planned on titling this post, “How We’re Screwing Up Our Kids Even Before They’re Conceived.”

But then I thought, no, this doesn’t have to be negative news. 

Looked at in a positive light, this research indicates that couples who are intentionally trying to get pregnant can take steps now to give their embryo a head start in life—steps like eating a healthy diet, taking pre-natal vitamins, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, quitting smoking, and managing stress levels. 

More good news: The environmental signals are transmitted to the fetus through both the egg and the sperm, which means that Daddy’s healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors also leave a legacy on your little one. 

It often feels like the responsibility for baby’s health lies solely with mom and her choices, so sharing the burden is a relief!

In the end, I’m concluding that this research supports a concept most parents eventually learn and accept: that when we take the time and put in the effort to take care of ourselves, it only makes us better parents.

Now we know that tenet holds true even before we see those two blue lines. 

What’s your reaction to this research showing babies are affected by parents’ choices even before conception? Do you find it empowering or guilt-inducing? 

image via Ben_Kerckx