Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Becoming a Father chapter 3: Towards conception

A man can make a difference
This section of the book is going to talk about things you can do before your partner is pregnant. These should help you to:

a) Increase the chances of conception,
b) Improve the chances of a healthy baby
c) Lower the odds of a miscarriage.

When I first started talking about writing this book a lot of people laughed at the idea because of two major misconceptions:

1. Any problems in conception are nothing to do with the man or are insurmountable without a doctor. There is only one thing a man needs to do to produce a baby and it is very easy and lots of fun.

2. What a man does before, during and after sex are unrelated to the health of the baby. Putting his sperm in the right place is the beginning, the end, and the sum total of a man’s responsibilities.

I believe these and some equivalent views about men and the time between conception and birth are the real reasons that there are still no useful books available for men who are planning a family.

While it is obviously very important for a man to know that there is only a small window each month in which he has a chance of causing conception there is a lot more that it can be useful for him to know. For example many people do not know that what they eat three months before conception can affect the chances of childhood diseases. Nor that what they wear during the same period can significantly affect whether there is any chance of conception at all .

Given this lack of information it is not surprising that we as men are turning to the books aimed at women. Women’s books often have a section or a chapter directed at the woman’s partner which assumes a couple of things. First it assumes (as do most male books) that conception has already taken place. Second it assumes that your objective is to understand your partner’s experience, and that other than that all you care about is whether you can still have sex.

Fortunately we have moved on since the days when this was all a man was interested in. Men now want to understand the whole process, as well as how what they do can affect things. Ninety six percent of men attend the birth of their child now where even twenty years ago it was far from the norm. Just as equality has started to give women a window into the world of business success it has allowed us a window into the world of emotional satisfaction. This is a real gain that most of the men I have spoken to have greatly appreciated.

Later in this section I do talk a bit about sex and how what the man does can affect not just the odds conception but the probabilities of each gender. Before that I am going to detail the difference nutrition makes to your fertility and in part to the health of you future child. There is information on fertility awareness as well. Understanding when your partner is fertile makes a large difference to the chances of conception. In my opinion the following are the factors that affect whether conception will take place, or at least those for which a man is partly or wholly responsible. In order of importance the following the following are what matter:

1. Timing
Sex needs get sperm to a live egg during your partner’s fertile period. If this is not achieved then conception cannot take place. If a viable sperm does not reach a fertile egg then no baby will result, so timing does control the possibility of conception. This does not mean having sex and exactly 2:15 on Saturday the 1st, the fertile period is measured in days not minutes. When you take into account sperm surviving until a live egg arrives the practical timing possibilities are even larger.

2. Smoking
This has a major negative affect on your sperm both in quality and in quantity. Also one of the negative affects of smoking is to remove essential nutrients from your system increasing the chance of some serious childhood diseases. Second hand smoke can also affect your partner, both prior to conception, and all the way through to the birth. Second hand smoke carried by clothes furniture or furnishings has been shown to have a negative effect even when no smoking take place with the mother present.

3. Nutrition
In a way I had to debate about putting this above alcohol, but decided that drinking alcohol is part of the whole what you eat/nutrition area. Good diet is not nearly as important for you before conception as it is for your partner all the way through. Most of the things you eat will only affect whether you have any chance of conception, without having too much risk of things like inhibiting brain function.

4. Alcohol
You may want to give up; at least it should not be for as long as it might be for your partner. Clearly if you will not give up then limiting your intake is a good idea. From a morale point of view it will be good for you to give up completely. That way you will be better able to understand how she feels about giving up drinking for the duration of the pregnancy. Supporting and understanding her throughout is very important. A lot of people try to argue against giving up saying a small amount does not make any difference. This is not true. A small amount makes a small difference to the odds, a larger amount makes a larger difference. This goes for her drinking while pregnant as well as you in the run up.

5. Stress
If giving up alcohol causes too much stress you may have an excuse to just cut down. If giving up alcohol causes that much stress then maybe you should have a close look at your alcohol consumption to see why? This is even more true for your partner after conception. The same rule applies to smoking, except that any smoking is so counterproductive that I would really recommend using this as a motivation to give up completely .

In this list I have assumed you are a normal healthy couple with no physical impediments to conception.

When you conceive does not seem to matter in terms of childhood diseases or of behavioural problems and learning difficulties. The order for the other factors seems to be much the same as they are in terms of affecting conception. In these terms recreational drugs are worse for your baby than smoking. This includes Marijuana which many users think of as harmless, or at least better than smoking.

It is worth highlighting at this stage that many couples who smoke have children, and most of them do not get Leukaemia or have major learning difficulties. Despite this smoking does alter the chances that you will conceive and the chances of having normal healthy children. In the same way there are many smokers who have lived longer than average and many old people who smoke but smoking does alter the chances of surviving to old age. The whole of the list above is about improving your chances not about guaranteeing the results one way or the other. You can succeed against the odds, and many do, the fact is more do not.

This book provides guidelines on timing, nutrition (including alcohol consumption) and stress, but giving up any addiction is too big a topic and requires a whole book.

If you have any addictions then look into getting rid of them before they affect either your chance of conceiving or the health of your child. Equally if you have any major stress related problems or eating disorders then you may find the things I can suggest insufficient. Use trying for a baby as a positive inducement to help you change.

If you think your partner has any addictions or other problems that will affect the pregnancy then try to use this as a supportive way to help her to help herself. Again we are straying from the remit of this book, but being supportive and trying to minimise her stress levels may help her to make a decision to improve the situation.

Rufus Evison

(c) Rufus Evison 2005-2006

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