Is it just me or has the world gone completely mad? We hear of parents having genetically modified, designer babies.

One with a talent for strumming the balalaika perhaps, or one with multicoloured stripes who blends in beautifully with the furniture.

If playing God were as simple as choosing pick-and- mix, our need to be reproductive control freaks might have a happy ending.

But genes as well as humans interact with their environment, making it almost impossible to predict how the ordered "commodity" will eventually turn out.

Creating desired characteristics may be justifiable when trying to prevent inherited diseases - otherwise, it just smacks of vanity.

We really should be going back to basics to find out why birth defects are on the increase rather than tinkering with trivialities.

In a recent study in the Lancet, chromosomal abnormalities were found in babies whose parents lived near landfill sites.

Another recent study found that congenital deformities were higher in babies born near a factory emitting radioactive materials.

More worrying, however, is that potential damage to a foetus isn't merely a matter of environmental pollution but likely to be inflicted by the parents-to-be themselves.

Foresight, the organisation for pre-conceptual care, advises couples to adopt a new lifestyle before conception, in preparation for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Their philosophy is stunningly simple and blindingly obvious: If you do all you can to have healthy sperm, ova and a healthy uterus, you optimise your chances of having stronger offspring.

Practical advice is given on what to eat, with strategies to adopt to help in avoiding allergens, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, drugs and other environmental toxins.

Sexually transmitted diseases or genitourinary infections account for a high incidence of infertility and chronic ill health in infants, so Foresight recommends the best course of action and relevant testing procedures.

The programme includes hair mineral analysis testing and supplementation of suitable vitamins and minerals. This is important, as deficiencies are widespread and linked to reproductive disorders, birth defects, immune and behavioural problems in children.

A new survey by Foresight shows that it is possible to substantially raise the success rate of infertile couples, more than double the success rate of IVF treatment, reduce miscarriage, stillbirth and malformation rates and increase babies' birth weight.

In other words, prospective parents are not healthy enough and the present-day environment not "foeto-friendly" enough to guarantee a successful outcome without some nutritional preparation.

For more information or details of a Foresight practitioner in your area, contact Foresight, 28 The Paddock, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1XD (01483 427839).

Interested health professionals can learn more about the Foresight approach on Saturday, May 11, at the Postgraduate Medical Centre (Brighton General Hospital) where the Institute of Nursing and Midwifery will be running a study day devoted to Family Planning.

If you would like to attend, call Sheila Hinder on 01892 823535, ext 3146.