Parental Habits and Health
This article has been fact checked by a Board Certified Pediatrician. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
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There are many risk factors for cerebral palsy. These are factors that do not guarantee a child will be born with the condition, but increase the risk or the chance that a child will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy, when compared to children without those risk factors. A definite cause for the brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy cannot always be determined, but there are well-known risk factors that affect many children.
A very important one of these is the health and the lifestyle habits and choices of the parents. While the mother’s health and habits are of greater influence on a developing fetus, the father’s health and lifestyle can also impact a baby. Health and habit risk factors of both parents should be considered when taking preventative steps to ensure a baby will be as healthy as possible.
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 is still not fully understood. Researchers are uncovering more facts all the time about how the choices mom and dad make can impact 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. The two share fluids and blood too, so infections and other illnesses can impact the baby.
Then there are effects that 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 a father that is older or was 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 very clear 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 that is diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
For a teenage mother, the risk is likely related to an increased risk for complications like preeclampsia, anemia, a low birth weight, and premature delivery. For women and who are 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 very important 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, to have a baby go past the normal gestation period, and to have gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure. A woman who is very small, 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 a low birth weight.
As with weight, the health of the mother 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 that causes cerebral palsy. Other health conditions in the mother that are known to increase the cerebral palsy risk include kidney disease, respiratory conditions, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, seizures, and intellectual impairment.
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 risk that the mother will have 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 the 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, there are many medications that can impact the developing fetus. Certain herbals and supplements as well as over the counter drugs may have an effect on the baby, but 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 a lower socioeconomic status may have an increased risk because of less access to health care or insurance, less adequate prenatal care, and even access to post-natal health care that 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. They 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.