Everyone wants the best for their children. You can see it in the faces of parents shopping for strollers, preschools and nannies who speak five languages. But what if what's best for your child takes place before the actual events of conception?
A new study appearing in this month's issue of the journal Science, titled "Parenting Before Conception," by Michelle Lane, Rebecca L. Robker and Sarah A. Robertson, suggests that your diet and stress levels pre-conception can contribute to the development of your child as it begins the vital embryonic stage of development.
The study suggests that "[m]aternal diet at conception has a major impact on the developmental program." The findings imply that a lack of protein and sufficient nutrients in the days before conception can impact the development of your child.
In a country where obesity and the costs associated with the condition are quickly rising to astronomical levels, it might be time to check what you're eating before you think about beginning your conception attempts.
Does consuming a chicken-fried steak with a huge glass of soda before sex have an effect on how well your child will handle digestion?
The study finds:
The effect of nutritional disturbance at conception persists through implementation and influences placental developments and nutrient transfer capacity, then after birth, the neonate [newly born child] gains weight more rapidly, developing high systolic blood pressure and elevated anxiety.
For years, expecting parents have moved to a healthier diet and tried to provide calmer surroundings for their child, like listening to Mozart and reading to them while in the womb. Now this study suggests that in that magic moment of conception, not only what's going on in your present but what took place in your past might impact how your child interacts with the world.
This is not all about the mother either.
Fathers battling with weight problems can pass those same issues on to their child:
Some obese fathers can alter the developmental capacity of the embryo in vitro, altering rates of mitosis and early differentiation events, resulting in reduced pluripotency [the ability of a stem cell to differentiate into different cell types] and metabolic function.
While it's staggering to think that environment and diet during the act of conception can impact the future of your child, there are other factors in your family history as well that can affect the levels of anxiety and stress that your future child may endure.
In an earlier study where mice were trained to fear a certain smell, the offspring of those same mice reacted negatively to the same smell. One has to wonder just how much our environment -- and, more exactly, our reactions to our environment -- may influence how our children will react to stress.
If you find yourself constantly checking your phone, fearing that one email that is going to destroy your day, or shaking at the thought of your job going away, will your children inherit that same fear?
The results of the study seem to lean toward a resounding yes. This leads to some interesting questions, like the effects of racism or other feelings of hate held by parents during conception. Are these epigenetically passed on to their children?
The study refers to this phenomenon as "transmissible effects," where ripples from traumatic events that occurred during childhood can be left over and passed on, particularly in males.
In speaking about the effects of a divorce, the authors note that negative results can be seen "in offspring of fathers exposed in early life to stress imposed by maternal separation."
This study raises the amazing possibility that the responsibility of parenting can begin long before those two pink lines fade appear on the pregnancy test. If you are thinking of having a child, your emotional and physical body should be in top order to better ensure that your child has the greatest chance to living a healthy life in all respects possible.
So when that moment comes when you are about to "make it," be sure your mind, body and soul are at ease.