Unhealthy Habits and Conception

Ok, so, I was having some drinks with a friend of mine the other night. He’s Canadian, I’m from the US, and we’re both married to locals here in China. He told me he was interested in starting a family but his wife told him he’d have to quit smoking and drinking for three months before she’d have a kid with him. That intriqued me since it was the same thing my wife said a long time ago when I broached the very same subject. I got home later and asked my wife why she thought I’d have to stop smoking or drinking for three months before we tried for a baby and she said something about alcohol and tobacco being bad in general. Well, duh. And we all know that pregnant women themselves shouldn’t drink or smoke due to the risk of harm to the fetus, but I know nothing about the father and his own unhealthy habits when conceiving. Hopefully there’s a doctor or someone with other first-hand experience who can shed some light here. If I have to stop drinking and smoking for three months to have a kid then I will, but I’ve never even heard of anything like that until I came to China. Then again, no one wants to take chances with their child’s health.

Could it have anything to do with testing your character/willpower?

I doubt it. “Give up smoking and drinking three months beforehand” seems to be one of those weird health facts every woman in this country can quote at will but I can’t seem to find any evidence for it beyond dubious Chinese sources. The best I found on Google were pages that said that smoking and drinking can lower a man’s sperm count and lower your wife’s/girlfriend’s chances of becoming pregnant, but nothing to support the notion of it resulting in the horrible birth defects and mental retardation that pregnancy-age women over here seem to believe in.

But, again, who wants to take chances?

Up until just lately, it was assumed that men had little control over the quality of their sperm. Studies are now showing that paternal age and lifestyle do affect sperm quality to a great extent. If smoking and drinking lead to DNA damage, and they do, that would be not in an offspring’s best interest, which your wife undoubtedly intuits.

I’ve been doing a little research into something like this.

The only thing I’ve found that they’ve discovered an absolute connection between the father’s habits and the health of the child is with cocaine use - the cocaine messes up the sperms somehow, not enough to keep them from fertilizing but enough to cause some definite birth defects.

IANAD and this is thirdhand from friends who went the in-vitro route, but apparently smoking lowers sperm count.

Yeah, I think that’s somewhat well-known. But wearing tight underwear or going in a jacuzzi or hot bath is supposedly bad for the sperm count, as well.

I guess what I’m asking here is: if I drink 3 beers and smoke 3 cigarettes on Monday and then my wife gets pregnant on Tuesday, is our baby going to suffer any serious complications as a result? I say no, the wife says yes, the Internet (as usual) is vague.

Naturally, I’d love my kid no matter what happened, but I don’t think anyone wants an unhealthy baby. If I have to modify my habits beforehand I’ll do so.

Okay, this is from L.M. Boyd’s column (some thirty or so years ago), so take it with a grain of salt: He wrote that men who use greater amounts of alcohol are more likely to father daughters than men who do not partake. Something about sperm motility being reduced across the board, but it weeding out more Y chromosome sperm than X.

Maybe it’s about wanting to maximize the chances for a boy…

Again, I doubt it. That tradition has been slowly dying out in China and, what’s more, Chinese laws allow one to choose either the father’s or mother’s family name for their baby. MKF has also mentioned several times that she wouldn’t care what sex it was other way (we’ve had alot of setbacks over the past couple years and we want a baby regardless of gender). Alot of Chinese men are big drinkers and smokers; it’s a cultural thing over here for men to celebrate by getting drunk and to show their masculinity by smoking, so people have taken notice of how ingrained that is and my suspicion is that someone sometime somewhere started the whole “give it up for three months” thing, it was reported as fact by the papers and TV shows, and most women believe it as fact on the strength of that.

Thanks for your interesting input, kaylasdad99. Please give some more insight if possible. Judging by your username, I think you probably know more than I do about being a dad.

On a slight tangent, I originally thought I wanted a little girl because I’m a teacher and my young male students are just little terrors in the classroom whereas my young female students are very well-behaved. But then I started to think that maybe I could have a close “man to man” relationship with a son that might be particularly fulfilling. My dad was very close with me, and with my older brother, and he shared quite a bit of wisdom with us. I’d like to do the same.

But, as I said, I’ll love my baby Doper no matter what.

It might be this, a parent will need quite a bit of willpower. Parents also need money to raise a child, and a great way to save money is to cut out, or at least sharply reduce, vices.

There are more old wives tales than you can shake a stick at here in China. And they vary from area to area. Can you tell me what Province your wife is from? I never got this particular one.

Your wife is subject to second hand smoke from you, so at least that should be a legitimate health concern. And, trust me on this one, you don’t want a baby with challenges.

That said, I think it’s probably a request for you to make at least a symbolic gesture that you are as committed to having a baby as your wife. No big deal for you to stop smoking and drinking for 3 months prior if she’s looking at 10 months of pregnancy.

I know from the experience we had with our fertility clinic that if you are wanting to improve the quality of your sperm, you need to make certain changes to your lifestyle (giving up smoking and drinking, for example), and then wait 3 months to see if they have had any effect. It takes about that time for any changes to be seen when you do a semen analysis (something to do with the cycle of sperm production).

Maybe the wife is taking this bit of information, and interpreting it to mean that you *need *to do this before you start trying to conceive. I don’t believe it really has much to do with the prevention of problems with the actual baby.

An interesting side question -

Sperm are disposable. The ones he’d contribute to a pregnancy today were manufactured in the recent past (a week, maybe a month, not a year). So it stands to reason that if his healthy or unhealthy habits affect then sperm, then going healthy for a few weeks would result in better sperm.

Eggs are not disposable. The one she’d contribute to a pregnancy today were manufactured years ago, if not pre-natally. I don’t recall the details, but they don’t really matter for what follows. They were made way back when, and have been maintained by her body since then. So when should she give up unhealthy habits to have the best effect on the fetus? Or is the answer that her every unhealthy act since oogenesis has worn away a little of the potential quality of each egg?

Not true, I never smoke around her. I always leave the room to go smoke on the balcony. Or does “second-hand smoke” also include the “smoke smell” that gets into something (curtains, sheets, etc) when you smoke near it?

I am not a doctor, but my understanding is that being with a smoker can have a negaative health effect. How much I have no idea. Certainly smoking out on the balconey is not as bad as smoking in the apartment.

What province or city is your wife from?


IIRC, sperm are not made “a week in advance, maybe a month.” It takes about 60 days for healthy, mature sperm to develop and be ready to be sent away.

Although meiosis* is constant (making new spermatids), those cells have to develop and mature so that they can function. For example, right after meiosis, the cells lack a tail. Immotile sperm go nowhere, once ejected.

In the case of oogenesis, it is a bit different, as the ovum spends a long time in a “frozen” state before finishing development in the month prior to its ovulation. So yes, females are born with a finite pool, but their actions could affect the final development of the ovum. Not to mention her actions also affect implantation and pregnancy.

*Meiosis- The cell division that makes eggs or sperm. In the final tally, instead of each cell having the same number of chromosomes as the starting cell, the daughter cells instead have half.

It’s not just about the egg, but the whole process. Even if an egg is perfectly healthy and has been fertilized by a perfectly healthy sperm, it has to be able to implant and stay implanted in the uterine lining - which can be affected by drinking (not sure about smoking).

Perhaps the smell of smoke might be upsetting to her. She knows that she’s already sensitive to the smell of smoke and booze, and when she gets pregnant, she’ll be even more sensitive to various smells… and she puts two and two together…

Just a guess. I agree with the willpower hypothesis.

There is a “rule…”

Women who are fretting about first babies and controlling their pregnancy will spend a lot of time controlling small risk issues. Like their husband’s smoking or alcohol consumption pre-conception (it IS way better to stop smoking before a baby arrives - second hand smoke and babies is bad). They will eat the right vegetables, avoid the wrong medications, spend their pregnancies eschewing caffeine and avoiding household chemicals. (All of this is fine and dandy, but a lot of what they do is what the “Bible” - What to Expect While Your are Expecting" calls something like “Best Chance” - but eating just ONE serving of orange vegetables each day and having some white bread probably isn’t enough by itself to turn your precious child into a mouth breathing moron.)

Then the baby is born. And they continue to watch their diets because they’d only consider breastfeeding - once again, managing very small risks. And they control as much of the baby’s life as they can - often ‘over’ cleaning, or managing bedtimes and naptimes, or playing Mozart…

After three kids, they no longer have time and will pick up a pacifier off the floor using the 30 second rule. And if the one year old has a few sips of Mom’s diet pop…

If they have twelve, they just don’t let them play IN traffic…next to traffic is up for grabs as long as they still can manage to get this load of laundry folded. And the kid only eats fruit snacks and mac n cheese - hey, fruit snacks have SOME fruit juice in them, right?