Every parent wonders at one point or another what their baby will look like. Will they inherit your blue eyes or your partner’s strawberry blonde hair? Will they be naturally tall or even athletic? There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to understanding how or why certain traits get passed down to our little ones. 4D ultrasounds give you the best possible look at your baby, but even those scans won’t tell you the whole story.
Genetics play a significant role in providing clues to these common questions, but did you know other factors can also impact what your baby will look like? Things like what supplements you take or the environment you live in also matter. We’re breaking down the most important factors that affect your baby’s appearance, along with the traits that are easiest to predict. Enjoy guessing while you wait for your little one to arrive, but we know once they’re here, you’ll love them from their head to their toes!
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7 Factors That Influence Your Baby’s Appearance
Genetics provides the most clues to give you a glimpse at what your baby will look like before they are even born. While genes are considered the foundational map of your baby’s development, other factors beyond this also contribute to your baby’s appearance.
Something as simple as where you live can alter how your baby looks. For example, if you live in a noisy city center, your baby’s sleep might be disrupted. Since growth hormones are typically released while at rest, over time, this could cause your baby to be shorter than their genetics would have predicted. Here are more circumstances that can impact what your baby looks like:
1. You & Your Partner’s DNA
You might remember learning in school that DNA makes up the building blocks of life, organized into structures called chromosomes. Your little wonder will inherit 46 chromosomes in total, filled with all the complex data necessary to determine everything from height, weight, and hair color to whether or not your baby will have freckles or dimples. Within these chromosomes are 30,000 different genes which are reshuffled in countless combinations for each new baby!
2. Your Healthy Habits
We are sure you’ve heard the phrase “eating for two,” and while it’s not our favorite saying, we understand why it’s out there. Nutrition is super important for your baby’s development. Malnutrition and obesity might be opposites, but both can have an equally damaging effect when it comes to your child’s growth.
If you’re not eating enough nutritional food, your baby may never reach their full genetic height potential. On the flip side, studies suggest your child may become obese later in life if your diet consists of too many unhealthy snacks. This is because their appetites develop even before they are born while still in the womb.
So eating balanced meals and taking prenatal vitamins now can set your little love on a course for a long and healthy life. Supplements like folate are vital and can help form your baby’s spine. These nutrients prevent medical conditions like spina bifida and keep your little one’s growth right on track.
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3. Both of Your Family Histories
Did your grandmother have long, thick hair? Is your father a natural runner, tall and slender? Don’t be surprised if your baby inherits these traits. Some genes pass down from one person to the next, but others may skip a generation or two. If neither you nor your partner has green eyes, but your baby does, the answer to how this is possible might be found in an old family photo album. Pretty amazing, huh?
4. Where You’ve Traveled
Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to put your jet-setting ways behind you. But for those in the travel industry or frequent flyers, this could be a factor in how your baby looks. At high altitudes, you are exposed to low levels of cosmic ionizing radiation. For most people, this exposure doesn't have much of an impact, but for those such as flight attendants, it can have affect on how your baby looks. While it’s nothing to be overly alarmed about, especially if you only travel by plane occasionally, it’s another factor to know about.
5. What You Had to Drink
Most moms skip the wine menu while pregnant since studies show too much alcohol can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This can alter your baby’s appearance with a smaller head, wider spaced eyes, or a narrow lip, and decrease their cognitive skills, so it's best to be avoided.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you might also want to reconsider that extra coffee run while you’re pregnant. Studies show that height and weight can be stunted by moms with high caffeine intake. Consider opting for one or two well-timed cups of coffee instead to give you the energy you need. This will keep you going while also helping your baby achieve their maximum growth potential.
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6. Changing Hormones
Even your baby’s hormonal fluctuations can have an impact on what they look like. These changes that happen as your little cutie ages can cause their hair color to turn from blonde to brown or their texture to go from straight to curly. Similarly, a mother’s estrogen levels can also cause changes in your baby's appearance like breast swelling or even nipple leakage in newborns. Not to worry though, this fades as hormone levels taper off.
7. Where You Live
The environment is the second most important of all these factors behind genetics. Where you live can impact your baby’s development and even their appearance. Their eyes and hair color can adjust based on the strength and consistency of UV exposure from the sun. Environmental factors like pollution or traffic can also lower birth weights and influence a baby’s appearance.
What Variables Can Genetics Help Predict?
If you want to dive deeper into how genetics impacts your baby’s appearance, here are some common traits that parents wonder about. In some cases, all it takes is one gene to produce a particular look, while in others, it involves complex probability calculations or is not linked to genetics at all.
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At birth, most babies’ eyes appear blue-gray, but over time color-producing cells called melanocytes get exposed to light and change your baby’s eye color to its genetic hue. Usually, this happens when they are around 6-9 months old.
A baby with two brown-eyed parents will likely have dark-colored eyes since that allele is dominant, but there is a chance your baby could have light eyes based on historical family traits. Find out the percentage likelihood of your baby’s eye color by looking online at a baby genetics calculator. Simply enter you and your partner's eye color, and you’ll get the probability of your baby's eye colors.
Like eye color, many babies are born with lighter hair color that changes over time. The darker brown traits are dominant, while recessive genes determine hues like red and blonde hair. Melanocytes also play an essential role in changing hair pigments to their final shade.
Ginger-haired babies owe their unique looks to a single gene. When babies have two copies of it, they not only get red hair but light skin and freckles too. So if your baby has red hair but no freckles, they likely only inherited the one gene.
Height and Build
Height, weight, and bone structure are more difficult to predict than it seems. There are over 100 genes that impact height alone. Many environmental, nutritional, and health factors can also affect these three traits.
Some studies suggest you can come close to predicting your baby’s height by combining both parents’ heights and adding 5 inches if you are having a boy. If you are having a girl, they say to combine both heights then deduct 5 inches.
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Did you know your baby’s fingers are already developed in your first trimester? Whether their ring finger is longer than their index finger or if they have a curved pinkie toe is influenced by hormones in the womb. Even your little one’s fingerprint can be linked to your genetics, picking up the overall pattern of loops, arches, or whirls. So, when you look at those tiny little digits, know that they are more complex than they seem: a combination of genetics, hormones, and gender.
Dimples & Widow's Peaks
Dimples are another trait that is determined by a single gene. If you or your partner have dimples, your baby has a 50% chance that they will also inherit those signature cheeks. The majority of women have widow’s peak, and many believe it's a trait that can be passed down. But research has found that unlike dimples, widow’s peaks are not determined by genetics.
Studies have identified up to 15 different genes responsible for the facial expressions we make, including your little one. Does your baby crinkle their nose the same way your grandfather used to, even though they never met? The muscles and nerves that help us make facials expressions are based on genes passed down from one generation to another. So, the next time your child raises her eyebrows like dad or opens her eyes wide like mom, you’ll know it’s not just mimicry but inherited traits at play.
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