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Why Dad’s Nutrition and Lifestyle is Just as Important to Family Planning as Mum’s

The decision to try to get pregnant and start a family often changes prospective parents’ whole outlook on life. The focus is often on the lifestyle of the mother, which is understandable—after all, the baby grows inside the mother’s womb for nine months. But what is the role of the father? Does the dad’s lifestyle and nutrition choices affect fertility or possibly even the baby’s health?

Couples' thoughts tend to revolve around hoping for a successful pregnancy and soon having a small bundle of joy in their arms. When trying to get pregnant, it is often the birth mum who makes improvements in her lifestyle choices, such as nutrition and exercise. Their goals may be to eat more healthily and make better food choices to increase the chances of conceiving, and to support the growing baby’s development.

Several studies have shown that the dad’s diet and other lifestyle choices are connected both to fertility and the child’s future health. So, according to current knowledge, when trying to have a baby the father should also focus on and improve his diet and health.

Dad holding newborn baby

Can the father’s diet affect conception?

More and more Western couples are struggling with involuntary childlessness. There are many factors that cause it and naturally the fertility of both parents plays its part. Some causes of weakened fertility in men can be genetic or different types of infections and injuries (1). Not all causes can be prevented, but if lifestyle choices are behind the reduced fertility, fortunately they can often be changed.

Obesity and poor lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking alcohol also pose a challenge to conceiving for men and women. Eating regularly, using less drugs and alcohol, exercising daily, and being more active can all help to improve the quality of sperm (2).

If your lifestyle has not been too healthy before trying for a baby, making changes abruptly can feel very challenging. It is important to remember that not all changes must happen at once, and it is easier to start tackling one small change at a time. Usually, the dream of a baby of your own is a good motivator. Sometimes it can be helpful to seek help from an expert in nutrition or exercise for advice on where you can begin to start making positive changes to your diet and overall health.

Learn more: Lola&Lykke Experts Answer: Psychotherapy can help treat the emotional crisis of infertility

Different nutrients built up in our bodies influence the fertility and development of reproductive cells both in women and men (2,3). From a nutritional standpoint, when trying to conceive it is important to focus on eating plenty of vegetables and getting enough unsaturated fats and fibre. Simultaneously, it is beneficial to limit the intake of products with high energy and sugar content, saturated fats, red meats, processed foods, excess caffeine and alcohol (2,4). Recent studies have shown that even small amounts of alcohol can reduce the number of sperm cells (5).

Below is a list of nutritional elements that may weaken or improve men’s fertility (2,4).

May decrease fertility: May increase fertility:
  • Drinking alcohol
  • High consumption of caffeine (over 300 mg/day)
  • High consumption of sugary foods and drinks (e.g. sweets and sodas)
  • High consumption of saturated fats fatty meat and dairy butter, coconut oil, palm oil pastries and cakes
  • High consumption of red and processed meats
  • Sufficient consumption of polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3s good sources: fish, vegetable oils (excluding coconut and palm oil), nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseed
  • Sufficient consumption of nuts and seeds
  • Eating fish and other seafood
  • Sufficient consumption of fibre good sources: full grain products, vegetables, root vegetables, pulses, fruit, berries, seeds, nuts
  • Sufficient intake of vitamin D
  • High consumption of high-fat dairy products
  • Vegetable-based diet including lots of vegetables, fruit, berries, pulses, whole grains
  • Low consumption of vegetables, fruit, and berries

Father’s diet pre-pregnancy and the child’s future health

How can the foods the dad has eaten, before the mum falls pregnant, influence the child’s future health?

The explanation lies in epigenetics, which means lifestyle and environmental factors affecting the functioning and expression of genes. In other words, this means that different environmental circumstances and our lifestyle choices all have an influence on how our genes work, and which genes ‘turn on’ or ‘off’ (6). Nutrition is one of these factors, and therefore the dad’s diet before the pregnancy even begins, has an influence on how his genes work and how they might be passed on to the child.

dad and son walking hand in hand in the meadow

The epigenetic influence of the father’s lifestyle has not yet been thoroughly researched in humans (7), though there are plenty of animal studies available. However, those few studies that have been conducted in humans have been able to prove that the quality of diet is connected to the sperm and the genes found in it (8). The father smoking pre-pregnancy is known to affect the child’s health later in life, but the influence of nutritional choices still requires further research (9).

So far, obesity in parents has been found to increase the risk of obesity and metabolic diseases for the child (9, 10). According to studies, sufficient intake of vitamin D and folate by the father, as well as an antioxidant-rich diet full of vegetables, may benefit the child’s health further down the line (9).

According to current studies in epigenetics, the father can protect the child’s future health by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a varied diet regularly, including plenty of vegetables in his diet, and making sure he gets enough folate and vitamin D. Below are some tips on how to add antioxidants, folate, and vitamin D into your diet (11).

Where can I get antioxidants?

  • Try to eat many different colour vegetables, fruit, and berries daily
  • Add wholegrains to your diet

Good sources of folate

  • Wholegrains
  • Fresh vegetables, fruit, and berries
  • Especially dark green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, rucola, spinach, kale, and Brussels sprouts
  • Beans and chickpeas

Folate gets easily destroyed in heat, so it is good to try and eat fresh uncooked vegetables daily. It is important to get enough vitamin B12 as well because it affects how well folate is absorbed.

Good sources of vitamin D

  • Oily fish
  • Eggs, especially the yolk
  • Certain mushrooms, such as chanterelle, oyster, and morel
  • Products enriched with vitamin D, such as certain margarines and dairy products

The support and help the dad provides is important during pregnancy

What could be sweeter than food waiting at the table after a busy day at work, or perhaps breakfast in bed? The diet of an expectant mother has a huge impact on the development and growth of the baby. However, pregnancy can really drain all the energy from expecting mums, leaving little room for healthy meal planning. Just going to the supermarket can feel exhausting when the fatigue and nausea from pregnancy are at their worst.

This is where the father’s role in supporting the mum’s diet is vital for both the mother and the child. Reminders to take prenatal vitamins or preparing a nutritious smoothie for a mum struggling with nausea are small, yet important gestures. Every mother-to-be will appreciate them, and they can also improve the relationship and help the couple grow closer together before the baby arrives.

Learn more: Empowering Dads: A Guide to Involving Dads in Breastfeeding Journey

a pregnant woman eating a healthy breakfast

The dad’s diet also serves as a role model for the child

If you have ever tried to change your lifestyle or diet, you may have realised that changes do not happen instantly. When the baby arrives and in just a few short months begins to eat solid foods, changing your diet at that time can turn out to be very challenging. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a think about your own diet and eating habits before the baby is born.

Both parents act as role models for the baby when they learn to eat. Therefore, the father’s eating habits also carry a significant weight on developing healthy eating habits. The relationship with food, eating patterns, and diet of both the mother and the father influence the habits the child develops.

To support your future child’s wellbeing, you can start to think about your own relationship with food and eating habits with these questions, even before the baby is born:

  • Is my diet varied? Does my diet contain different types of vegetables, fruit, and berries?
  • Do I eat regularly and enough?
  • Do I listen to my body as I eat? Can I easily recognise hunger and satiety?
  • Do I appreciate the food I eat?
  • How do I talk about food?
  • What do I think about food? Is it just something that brings me energy and nutrients, or does it also bring me happiness and new experiences?
  • Does eating make me anxious? Do I often eat when I’m in the grips of some emotion, e.g. sadness?
  • When I was a child, was I ever comforted with food?
  • When I was a child, was I required to finish all the food on my plate? How did that make me feel?
  • Do I feel suspicious about new foods, or do I like to experiment?
  • Do I deny myself certain foods?
  • Is my approach to eating flexible or strict?

Family planning and pregnancy are excellent opportunities for both parents to think about and improve their diet. Learning healthy eating habits does not mean perfectionism or counting every single piece of food you eat. Healthy eating also includes joy and pleasure, so snacks are allowed! In addition to supporting the mother and the child, the father-to-be must remember to take care of himself as well. When you feel better, you are a better dad to your child!

Learn more: New Dads, You Need (And Deserve!) Support Too


(1) Tiitinen A (2021). Miehen lapsettomuus. Lääkärikirja Duodecim 2021. https://www.terveyskirjasto.fi/dlk00734 (on 19.3.2022)

(2) Ilacqua A, Izzo G, Emerenziani G P, Baldari C, Aversa A (2018). Lifestyle and fertility: the influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology – BMC 2018;15:115.

(3) Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta. Syödään yhdessä -ruokasuositukset lapsiperheille. Helsinki: PunaMusta Oy 2019. https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-343-254-3

(4) Leisegang K, Dutta S (2020). Do lifestyle practices impede male fertility? Andrologia 2020;00:e13595.

(5) Tiitinen A (2021). Lapsettomuus. Lääkärikirja Duodecim 2021. https://www.terveyskirjasto.fi/dlk00151 (on 19.3.2022)

(6) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC (2020). What is Epigenetics? 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/epigenetics.htm (luettu 19.3.2022)

(7) Dimofski P, Meyre D, Dreumont N, Leininger-Muller B (2021). Consequences of Paternal Nutrition on Offspring Health. Nutrients 2021;13:2818.

(8) Soubry A, Murphy S K, Vansant G, He Y, Price T M, Hoyo C (2021). Opposing Epigenetic Signatures in Human Sperm by Intake of Fast Food Versus Healthy Food. Frontiers in Endocrinology 2021;12:625204.

(9) Soubry A (2018). Epigenetics as a Driver of Developmental Origins ofHealth and Disease: Did We Forget the Fathers? BioEssays 2018;40:1700113.

(10) Wu Q, Suzuki M (2006). Parental obesity and overweight affect the body-fat accumulation in the offspring: the possible effect of a high-fat diet through epigenetic inheritance. Obesity reviews 2006;7:201-208.

(11) Fineli®. Elintarvikkeiden koostumustietopankki. Helsinki: Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos. https://fineli.fi/fineli/fi/index (on 20.3.2022)