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How Are a Baby's Inherited Traits Determined?

How Are a Baby's Inherited Traits Determined?
Baby with parents. Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

One of the most exciting aspects of having a child is to find out what traits she has inherited from her parents. Some traits are beneficial, while others may be harmful. The March of Dimes explains that inherited traits may be altered through gene defects or environmental factors.

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Role of Genes

Genes from both parents are responsible for a baby’s inherited traits. Genes are located in your cells’ chromosomes which are at the center of every cell in the body. The genes within your cells determine your traits as well as the way your body functions.

Types of Traits

Inherited traits include your physical features, blood type, personality, intelligence, susceptibility to illness and disease. Physical features include hair color, eye color, facial features and height. These traits are derived from both parents as well as their families. In some cases, traits can skip a generation. For example, your baby might have your grandmother’s eye color, which may be different from the color of your eyes or those of your partner.


A baby’s genes are determined upon conception. However, some factors can alter these genes before a baby is born, and can harm a fetus before birth. Your baby inherits normal traits but can also inherit abnormal traits. Such genes are referred to as single gene defects, which can cause birth defects.


Although birth defects are often attributed to genes, the March of Dimes explains that certain environmental factors are also to blame. Some environmental factors are controllable during pregnancy, such as alcohol usage, drug abuse and tobacco smoke exposure. Other factors may be out of a woman’s control, including an infection during pregnancy, unintentional chemical exposure and malnutrition due to poverty.

Birth Defects

Birth defects can occur when a baby is born with an abnormal gene. According to the March of Dimes, birth defects occur in as many as one in 28 families. Still, Children’s Hospital Boston reports that 96 to 97 percent of babies are born without defects. Birth defects affect the body composition, body chemistry and mental functions. If certain birth defects run on either parent’s side of the family, the March of Dimes suggests that you go through genetic counseling prior to pregnancy and birth in order to prepare for certain scenarios.

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