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Certain parental habits and health issues increase the risk or the chance that their child will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. These include age, weight, diet, and exposure to toxins. While the mother’s health and habits are more significant for a developing fetus, the father’s health and lifestyle can also impact a baby.
How Parental Health Affects a Baby
All the ways in which a mother’s and father’s health and lifestyle choices impact a developing fetus and baby are still not fully understood. Researchers are uncovering more facts about how mom and dad’s choices can affect how a baby develops and grows.
What the mother eats, for instance, directly impacts a developing fetus because the baby gets its nutrition from her. For example, a report published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health suggests that eating whole grains can “provide a substantial contribution to the improvement of the maternal diets.”
The two share fluids and blood too, so infections and other illnesses can impact the baby.
Some effects are less obvious and less clear. Stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional issues in the mother can impact how a baby develops. Her mood has a real impact on physical health factors, including fetal heart rate and fetal activity.
Research is even beginning to show that a father’s health can impact a baby. For instance, research has shown that a baby born to an older father or born at a low birth weight has a greater risk of being born with a low birth rate.
A father’s health may impact a baby by influencing the mother’s health. For instance, if the dad smokes or eats an unhealthy diet, the mother may be more likely to inhale secondhand smoke or make poor food choices.
Parental Age and Cerebral Palsy
Exactly how the various health choices and habits of parents influence the development of a fetus is not always understood. There are some obvious connections, though. For instance, it is well-known from research that the age of the mother and father can affect the risk of cerebral palsy in the baby.
Women and men younger than 18 or older than 35 are at an increased risk of having a baby diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
The risk is likely related to an increased risk for complications like preeclampsia, anemia, a low birth weight, and premature delivery for a teenage mother. For women older than 35, there are other risks and an increased likeliness of complications.
These include miscarriages, multiple births, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and genetic mutations that impact brain development. An older couple is also more likely to use infertility procedures that can increase the risk of multiples and other risk factors.
Another significant and clear risk factor is related to maternal weight. A father’s weight can also impact the baby, but the connection is much stronger with the mother.
More specifically, when a mother is obese, she is more likely to need a Cesarean section to deliver. She is also more likely to have a baby past the standard gestation period and have gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure.
A woman who weighs 100 pounds or less also puts her child at a greater risk for cerebral palsy because she is more likely to have a baby with low birth weight.
As with weight, the mother’s health has a strong relationship to the health of the fetus. The father’s health may also have an impact, but much less so. In terms of cerebral palsy, infections in the mother are major risk factors.
A fever can lead to brain damage in the fetus, which causes cerebral palsy. Other health conditions in the mother that are known to increase the cerebral palsy risk include kidney disease, chickenpox, thyroid problems, rubella, diabetes, and bacterial infections.
Also important is the reproductive health of the mother. If she has complications related to reproductive organs, there may be complications during fetal development or labor and delivery that increase the risk of the child having cerebral palsy.
For example, a cervical abnormality increases the mother’s risk of having a placental complication that can harm the baby. Other reproductive issues that increase the risk of cerebral palsy include endometriosis, cervical cancer, cysts, a cervix that opens too early, and malformations.
A woman who has previously had difficult pregnancies or deliveries is at an increased risk for complications in later pregnancies that can lead to cerebral palsy.
Toxins and Environmental Factors
When a mother is exposed to certain environmental contaminants or toxins, the baby is put at an increased risk for cerebral palsy. Both mothers and fathers put their babies at risk when they are exposed to toxins even before conception.
While pregnant, the mother’s exposure to toxins is especially risky for the baby. Substances that can harm a developing fetus are known as teratogens. They include alcohol, heavy metals like lead and mercury, herbicides, pesticides, animal feces, raw and undercooked meats, and cigarette smoke.
Additionally, many medications can impact the developing fetus. Certain herbals and supplements, as well as over-the-counter drugs, may affect the baby.
Some known prescription drugs that may cause birth defects include antibiotics, hormones, thyroid medications, seizure medications, antidepressants, ACE inhibitors, and blood thinners.
Socioeconomic Status of the Parents
Some factors in parents’ lives can have far-reaching consequences that may not seem obvious but which have been shown in research to increase the risk for cerebral palsy. One of these is socioeconomic status.
Parents with lower socioeconomic status may have an increased risk because of less access to health care or insurance, less adequate prenatal care, and lower education can reduce the risk of long-term harm caused by complications.
Parental Health and Negligence
Parents have a big responsibility to make the lifestyle and health choices that will give their children the best possible chance of being healthy. Doctors have responsibilities too. Doctors are responsible for monitoring the health of the mother and the developing fetus and for taking appropriate and reasonable steps to prevent, identify, and treat the kinds of health problems that put the baby at risk.
When a mother does her part, but her doctor does not adequately screen or treat her and her baby, the doctor may be guilty of negligence when the baby suffers from a condition like cerebral palsy.
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Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3111740/
- Impact of Maternal Stress, Depression & Anxiety on Fetal Neurobehavioral Development. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3710585/
- Shah, P. S. (2010). Paternal factors and low birthweight, preterm, and small for gestational age births: a systematic review. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 202(2), 103-123.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2009.08.026
- Nkoka, O., Ntenda, P., Senghore, T., & Bass, P. (2019, April 3). Maternal overweight and obesity and the risk of caesarean birth in Malawi. PubMed Central (PMC). National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6448310/
- Causes and Risk Factors of Cerebral Palsy. (2019, September 23). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/cp/causes.html
- Reducing Exposure to Environmental Toxicants Before Birth: Moving from Risk Perception to Risk Reduction. (2009, September). PubMed Central (PMC). National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2728655/
- Parental socioeconomic status and risk of cerebral palsy in the child: evidence from two Nordic population-based cohorts. (2018, June 26). PubMed Central (PMC). National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6124619/