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Preconception Experiences of Moms — and Dads — May Influence Babies’ Development

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To what extent can parents’ experiences before conception influence their offspring’s development, behavior, and long-term health?

It’s an increasingly common question that scientists can’t answer — at least not yet.The link between parental experiences and child outcomes is well established, but research has generally focused on the prenatal period (e.g., the effects of smoking, stress, or diet during pregnancy) or the postnatal period (e.g., the impact of different parenting practices).

More recent is the idea that parents may influence their children’s lives and health even before conception. In animal studies, exposure to trauma, alcohol use, or poor diet before conception has been found to alter epigenetic regulation in reproductive cells (eggs, sperm), influencing the offspring’s own epigenetic makeup and future behavior.Epigenetics refers to a set of biological mechanisms that regulate when (in time) and where (in our body) genes are activated or switched off.

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