Men have babies, too! Until recently, little was known about the effects of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine and other drugs on a manís reproductive system and the ability to father children. Scientists are finding that when certain drugs enter the testicles through the bloodstream, a manís sperm count is lowered and the spermís motility or ability to swim is diminished. Damaged sperm can cause a pregnancy to end in miscarriage. Drugs can interfere with reproduction by changing the process by which sperm are selected for fertilizing the egg. The drugs in a manís system can lead to lower birth weight, birth defects or serious illnesses for the child after birth.
Studies show that a manís drinking patterns before conception of a child can influence the health of future children. The use of alcohol by men prior to conception may result in physical problems in offspring which may not show up until the child is several years old. Heavy alcohol use by the male before conception can be linked to infertility, altering of the reproductive chemistry, low birth weight, and subtle, long-term, permanent damage in the child.
Researchers are finding that smoking marijuana or tobacco may also damage or lower the sperm count. Even smoking a half-a-pack of cigarettes a day can reduce the sperm count by as much as 20 percent. Fatherís smoking before birth may result in lower birth weight and an increased risk of life threatening diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, and brain cancer. There is also an increased risk of fathering a child with a cleft lip, cleft palate, water-on-the-brain, or heart defects. After a child is born there is still need for concern about the infant or childís inhalation of secondhand smoke. The effects can be severe because children breathe faster than adults, spend 60-80 percent of their time indoors, and will actually inhale more secondhand smoke than an adult living in the same household. Children living in a home where there is secondhand smoke are more likely to have sore throats, coughs, irritated watery eyes, and respiratory infections like bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. These children are also more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome than children not exposed to smoking.
The use of cocaine by men may be linked to some mental problems in children. There is evidence that cocaine binds to the sperm and can be carried to the egg during fertilization. This interaction of sperm with cocaine may damage the fertilized egg. In addition, intravenous drug use may cause other health risks such as HIV infection. Women who have sexual relations with an HIV-infected partner contract the virus in 85 percent of the cases. A third of all babies born to HIV-infected women will also become infected with the virus.
There are approximately 160 babies born each year in Alaska with alcohol-related disabilities. Male drinking patterns greatly influence and impact their families. Statistics reveal that parents who abuse alcohol and other drugs are more likely to abuse and neglect their children. Alaska leads the nation in per capita cases of child sexual abuse and neglect. It is known that children of alcoholics have four times greater risk of becoming alcoholics than children of non-alcoholics. The impact on Alaskan families of parental alcohol and drug use is staggering.
Health professionals encourage men to embrace the responsibility, joy and opportunities a pregnancy affords. The fatherís support of the mother during the pregnancy is the most important action a man can take to have a healthy baby. The father can make an agreement that neither he nor the mother-to-be will drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or marijuana during the pregnancy. This agreement makes it easier for a woman to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A father can encourage regular prenatal care and go with the woman to checkups. Once pregnancy occurs fathers can help keep stress at a minimum. Studies show that when women report high stress during pregnancy, their babies are more likely to be born with health problems. Fathers can be considerate and understanding of the changes a woman goes through during pregnancy. They can promote good nutrition, encourage a healthy lifestyle, join in the exercises the doctor okays for the pregnant woman, help with the more strenuous household chores, learn more about the birth process and enjoy this very special time.