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Men’s preconception behavior matters for healthy baby

“Men and women contribute equally to reproduction.”

That’s a statement in a new paper in the journal Gender and Society about how men’s role in making babies has been culturally diminished.

The paper, called “More and Less Than Equal: How Men Factor in the Reproductive Equation,” notes that since 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people of both genders who are looking to have a baby monitor their health more closely.

But in practice, this recommendation is generally directed toward women, who are now advised to treat their pregnancies as 12 months long.

This means curtailing alcohol consumption and taking prenatal vitamins before they’ve even conceived.

Yet recent research has shown that men’s preconception behavior also matters.

According to the CDC, tobacco and heavy drinking can damage sperm DNA, and we’re just starting to understand how older men’s sperm may affect their offspring adversely.

“What kinds of advice, if any, do men receive about preparing their bodies for reproduction?” the researchers ask. “Men should be empowered with information about how their age, health history and unhealthy behaviors can affect pregnancy outcomes.”

The only venue where male preconception health gets much attention, the authors point out, is at sperm banks, where men’s sperm is scrutinized.

The paper’s authors, Yale’s Rene Almeling and Princeton’s Miranda Waggoner, argue that the hyperfocus on women’s bodies before and during reproduction has led to a dearth of research about men’s contributions to conception.

On a more individual level, doctors should be asking their male patients if they plan to have children, just the way that women are asked at their yearly gynecological visits, the authors say.

On the policy level, Almeling and Waggoner suggest that the Affordable Care Act might cover men’s preconception visits, as all women’s preconception visits are now covered without copay.

“Recent public health initiatives devoted to preconception care offer at least the possibility that men’s reproductive contributions will be considered alongside women’s,” the authors write.

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