Can I control which genes my child will express?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
While you can't control which genes you pass on to your child, you do have some influence over which genes are expressed, affecting what features are seen in your baby (his phenotype). In fact, how what you eat, breathe, and even feel can affect the long-term health of your child.

Stressors in the mother's environment cause a change in the gene expression patterns of the fetus. That means the chemicals your baby is exposed to in utero, via the foods you eat and the cigarettes you don't inhale, serve as biological light switches in your baby's development. On, off, on, off—you decide how your child's genes are expressed, even as early as conception.

You don't have total control. We still don't know how you can change your baby's eye color, or when his hair falls out. But we do know how to influence some really important factors like your child's weight or intelligence. So there's an important reason why we're able to turn certain genes on and off. Our bodies have to adapt to a changing environment (that's how a species survives, after all). But our ability to adapt would be much too slow if we had to wait generations for our genes to change through random mutation (the classical theory of evolution).
YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

More About this Book

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

Can I get a cavity filled while pregnant? Will avoiding spicy foods make my kid a picky eater? Can I really increase my baby's IQ while she's in utero? Whether you're pregnant for the first time,...

Continue Learning about Genetic Disorders and Birth Defects

Stem Cells, Worth the Wait
Stem Cells, Worth the Wait
Headlines call it a miracle: In the well-respected medical journal, The Lancet, Canadian researchers reported that 23 people with debilitating multipl...
Read More
What is stem cell transplantation?
Diana MeeksDiana Meeks
Stem cell transplantation is a procedure in which healthy stem cells are injected into a person, wit...
More Answers
How does cystic fibrosis (CF) affect the lungs?
Jumo HealthJumo Health
With cystic fibrosis (CF), thick and sticky mucus in the lungs means that they are unable to work li...
More Answers
Should I Consider Prenatal Testing for Genetic Disorders?
Should I Consider Prenatal Testing for Genetic Disorders?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.