Each of us is made up of genes from our parents, and our parents are made up of genes from their parents, and so on. Every cell in your body contains DNA, which is a blueprint or “genetic code” that tells your cells what to do and how to grow. Each cell in your body contains the entire code. This is a huge amount of information that is condensed into more easily managed units called chromosomes. Each of us has 46 chromosomes that pass the genetic code from cell to cell as our bodies grow.
Just as chromosomes pass genetic material when your body makes new cells, they also pass the genetic code from you to your child. When you ovulate each month, your egg has 23 of the chromosomes needed to make a person. When you become pregnant, the other 23 chromosomes come from the father’s sperm. With a total of 46 chromosomes, your baby now has the information he needs to grow.
This information, or genetic code, will determine things like height and what color of hair and eyes your baby will have. Whether your baby is a boy or a girl is also determined by the genetic code that came from you and your baby’s father. Some conditions or diseases can also be passed on through your genes.
It’s important to note that most parents don’t have a very high risk of passing on a “problem” gene. There are tests now available to you that can help tell you about specific genetic risks. Your provider will discuss these with you. If you’re considered high risk, for example, if your family has a history of some kind of hereditary problem, your healthcare team may offer genetic counseling and further genetic screening so that you can be aware of any potential problems.