A recent study connects older fathers with high risks to mother and child. It may be time to talk about father’s age in birth outcomes, the data suggests.
In discussing fertility in older parents, usually the main focus is primarily on the mother. As she ages, her eggs become less viable, fertility rates decrease, and then there’s the ticking time-bomb, menopause. Men, it’s said, can produce sperm forever.
Study Looked at Infants Born to Fathers Over Age 35
True, but a new study published October 21, 2018, in The British Medical Journal showed that a father’s age is connected with a slight increase in adverse birth outcomes for the baby and for the mother. This is important because the number of older men having children is increasing. A study published in October 2017 in the journal Human Reproduction found that in the United States, “mean paternal age has increased over the past 44 years from 27.4 to 30.9 years.”
Researchers Examined the Role of the Father — and His Age — in Birth Outcomes
“We wanted to look at role of the father. He contributes half the DNA, so you would think he would be involved, but there hasn’t been much focus given to the man’s age,” says Michael L. Eisenberg, MD, coauthor of the study and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
Data Show Higher Averse Birth Outcomes With Older Fathers
After data analysis from over 40 million births documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics (and adjusting for maternal age, race, education, maternal smoking status, and number of prenatal visits), the Stanford University team of researchers found that babies born to fathers older than 35 were at a higher risk for low birth weight, seizures, and need for ventilation immediately after birth. Men 45 or older were 14 percent more likely to have a child born prematurely, and men 50 or older were 28 percent more likely to have a child that required admission to the neonatal intensive care unit. The researchers did not look at infant mortality.
Father’s Age Also Has Effect on the Mother of Child
A shocking result showed also that women who bore children with older fathers had a slightly increased risk of developing gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and goes away by itself after delivery. Women whose partners were over the age of 45 were 28 percent more likely to develop gestational diabetes, compared with fathers between 25 and 34.
The Cause of the Increased Risks Unknown at This Time
There are different hypotheses. “It could be due to genetics, in that every year the man accumulates two mutations in sperm DNA, and another possibility is epigenetic to DNA itself. These go to gene expression, how efficiently the different DNA become different protein. The mechanism may be through the placenta, in that if it hasn’t developed perfectly, it could affect child or mother. They are nice theories but they are purely speculative at this point,” says Dr. Eisenberg.
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Findings Are Not a Reason for Would-Be Parents to Panic!
Eisenberg warns against becoming alarmed. The total risks may seem high but the overall risks of some of these events are not common, and the increase in risks is modest. “I liken it to buying a lottery ticket. Your chances of winning are small if you buy one ticket. If you buy two tickets, your chances are doubled but the actual chance of it happening is still quite small. This is just something that couples should factor in when family planning, that there are potential repercussions for waiting too long. Small but they are there,” he says.