As my college roommate, who is now pregnant, explains: "We are pregnant when my husband wants to brag to relatives or park in the reserved parking spaces. But it is just me who's pregnant when it comes to diet or lifestyle - he can eat sushi in front of me all day long and then turn around and talk about our pregnancy." This hypocrisy seems consistent throughout all stages of pregnancy and birth - a woman wishing to become pregnant is advised to follow strict dietary rules while trying to conceive, and the should's and shouldn'ts just keep coming throughout the baby's first years. For expectant fathers, on the other hand, traditional wisdom seems to say 'anything goes.'
Yet, according to a recent article published in Science News, "...growing evidence suggests that a father's age and his exposure to chemicals can leave a medical legacy that lasts generations." For example:
Babies of firefighters, painters, woodworkers, janitors, and men exposed to solvents and other chemicals in the workplace are more likely to be miscarried, stillborn, or to develop cancer later in life, according to a review in the February Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology.
Fathers who smoke or are exposed at work to chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons put their children at risk of developing brain tumors.
That's right, it seems as if the chemicals to which men are exposed impact the health of their children even if the exposure happens before conception. The link between paternal exposure to drugs, for example, and the health of offspring has been clearly shown in animal models:
Male mice exposed to cocaine, for example, pass memory problems on to their pups, a 2006 study in Neurotoxicology and Teratology shows. The male mice inhaled cocaine in long daily sessions akin to crack binges. When they mated with females never given coke, they had pups that had trouble learning and remembering where to find food in simple mazes. The problem was especially severe for female offspring. The researchers couldn't find any obvious DNA damage in coke-smoking males' sperm, but did find altered levels of two enzymes involved in the methylation of DNA in sperm-producing tissue in the father mice. The result suggests that epigenetic changes may be responsible for the offspring's behavior problems.
Of course, it wouldn't be quite ethical do run a similar experiments in humans, but the link between a father's age and the chance of his children developing genetic diseases has been clearly documented.
Basically, what this research shows is that the widely held belief that it is the mother, and only the mother, who's lifestyle and dietary decisions impact the health and well-being of future children is sexist bunk. For the health of the kiddies, both partners have to play a part.