When it comes to conceiving a child and having a healthy pregnancy, the focus has long been on women. Preconception and pregnancy advice aiming to reduce the risk of pregnancy loss and improve outcomes for the child have largely centered around women’s health behaviors.

Of course it’s been known for some time now that male and female partners contribute essentially equally to fertility – and the success or difficulty getting pregnant. Yet historically, women have unfairly and inaccurately received the brunt of the blame when couples couldn’t conceive. But now, just as that’s changing, research is looking more closely at the role the man plays in the health of a pregnancy – including whether it’s carried to full-term – and the child on the way.

“When we’re talking about couple-dependent outcomes, like pregnancy or child health, males matter,” says Germaine Buck Louis, a professor of global and community health and dean of the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. This is the case, Buck Louis says, not only in terms of getting and staying pregnant – or the time it takes to get pregnant and ways to prevent pregnancy loss – but in terms of embryonic, or early human, development.

[See: 10 Weird Mind and Body Changes That Are Totally Normal During Pregnancy.]

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While a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health, Buck Louis led research evaluating couples’ lifestyles to identify factors associated with pregnancy loss that was published last year in the journal Fertility and Sterility. The study followed more than 300 couples, with men and women journaling about their habits from preconception and around the time of conception through early pregnancy. “Surprisingly, we saw a much higher risk of pregnancy loss if the female or the male partner was consuming more than two caffeinated beverages – this is from all sources of caffeine – a day,” Buck Louis notes. This research found not only that women’s caffeine consumption can drive up risk of pregnancy loss, as some previous research has shown, but that the man’s caffeine consumption matters, too. “Couples whose male partner consumed more than two daily caffeinated beverages had twice the risk of experiencing a [pregnancy] loss compared to couples whose male partners were consuming fewer caffeinated beverages,” she says.

The men and women studied counted all caffeinated beverages without regard to how much caffeine was in each drink. The reason – or mechanism – for this statistically significant link wasn’t evaluated in the research. But the overarching finding suggests that not just women – but men – should moderate caffeine consumption. Researchers noted that their approach to studying both partners was a departure from most previous research available “that focuses exclusively on female determinants, and offers insight for preconception guidance that is increasingly focusing on both men and women.”

But even as the focus is shifting – and broadening out to both partners – many unknowns remain regarding how men might affect the health of a pregnancy and the child. As such, many experts are looking at any and all clues to try to piece together a better understanding of this.

SRC: (Getty Images)

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