Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are just about ready to start a family and we’re really excited. The problem is that we disagree about what she (and I) need to do to get ourselves physically ready. Two things in particular are causing some friction: I read an article that suggested that women start taking prenatal vitamins even before they get pregnant. My wife says prenatal vitamins are for pregnancy only. She and I both smoke. I say she should quit, she says she’ll just switch to e-cigs. What do you think?
A: I think you’re right to be worried about both issues and I suggest that you shelve your discussions about pregnancy until after you’ve got them resolved.
Let’s start with the prenatal vitamins. One of the most important reasons your wife should take them now is that they contain a lot of folic acid. Folic acid (or folate) is a B vitamin that plays an important role in preventing neural tube defects, which are major defects of the brain and/or spinal cord. These defects happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy—often before a woman knows she’s pregnant. Since about half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned, pediatricians recommend that every woman of childbearing age get 400 micrograms of folate—which is what’s in most prenatal vitamins—every day, just in case.
Interestingly, there’s some intriguing research that indicates that you could benefit from a little extra folate yourself. A recent study by McGill University researcher Sarah Kimmins found that babies born to fathers who were folate deficient were about 30 percent more likely to have birth defects than those whose dads were getting enough folate. Granted, Kimmins’ study was on mice, but she believes that the findings will be similar for human dads. How much folate you need isn’t clear, but good sources include asparagus, avocados, bananas, beans, beets, broccoli, citrus fruits, dark green veggies, eggs, lentils, seeds, and nuts.
Now, on to smoking. When a mother-to-be inhales regular cigarette smoke, her womb fills with carbon monoxide, nicotine, tar, and resins that inhibit oxygen and nutrient delivery to the baby. Maternal cigarette smoking increases the risk of low-birth-weight babies and miscarriage. There’s also some evidence that paternal smoking is just as bad. If you think the baby is somehow protected from your smoke by being inside your partner, you’re dangerously wrong. Bottom line: Quit now, and try to get your wife to do the same. A lot of men put off quitting—or asking their partners to quit—out of fear that withdrawal might lead to some marital tension. Bad choice. The potential danger to your baby far outweighs the danger to your relationship.
Oh, and as for e-cigarettes? Don’t go there. While they’re less toxic than tobacco cigarettes, and they cut down on second-hand smoke, they’re hardly safe. Most e-cigs use liquid nicotine, which, besides being addictive, can cause high blood pressure and other heart-related issues in your wife, and can reduce blood flow to the placenta, potentially doing permanent damage to your baby. E-cigs may also contain propelyne glycol, which, when heated can turn into a powerful carcinogen, according to Stanton Glantz, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. Glantz and his team also found that far from being the “harmless vapor” e-cig companies claim, the stuff smokers are inhaling contains nanoparticles, which can irritate the lungs and aggravate asthma and other breathing issues. And the second-hand-smoke exhaled by e-cig smokers contains those same chemicals and nanoparticles, so no vaping for you either.