Most women know the reproductive risks involved with their growing age, for themselves and for their babies. In fact, women are repetitively reminded of all the possible risks that comes with having babies after attaining certain age. But, in our society, men don’t get all such reminders. It is proved through several research that infants born from older fathers are at a risk of health problems like preterm birth, low birth weight and in some cases, breathing problems too.
Women having children with older men, are too in a health risks like gestational diabetes. People are becoming parents in later ages i.e. after 35 or 40 years, can have implications for the health of the pregnancy, the babies and the women who birth them. Human body is habitual in reproducing in the late teens or early twenties. Beyond that, it will come with several potential biological risks.
Now-a-days, couples prefer to start their families during their increased age. For this, they marry in late years hence it delays in having children. It is becoming a trend as they first want to complete their education and get secured in their careers.
Till now, we were in a concept of maternal factors associated with birth risks, but latest study shows that having a healthy baby is a team sport i.e. not only mother, the father's age also contributes to the baby's health.
Risks in infants born from fathers having the age of 35 or above
Data collected from almost 40 million births proved that infants born from older fathers i.e. "advanced paternal age”, were at a high risk of health problems, such as, seizures and many a times require ventilators immediately after birth. For example, men who were 45 or older were 14 percent more likely to have a baby born prematurely, and men 50 or older were 28 percent more likely to have a child that required to be admitted to the intensive care unit.
In comparison with fathers between the ages of 25 and 34, infants born to men of 45 or older were 14 percent more likely to be admitted to the intensive care, in 14 percent cases they were born prematurely, in 18 percent cases they have seizures and in 14 percent cases they have a low birth weight. If a father attained 50 or older, there are more chances that their infant would need ventilator upon birth.
Risks factors for an infant born from older fathers include:
- Single gene disorder – Advanced paternal age is related with high risk of single gene disorder which is caused by mutations of FGFR2, FGFR3 and RET genes. These are crouzon syndrome, apert syndrome, achondroplasia, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 and many more.
- Effect over pregnancy – Studies have proved the connection between advanced paternal ages with a high risk of miscarriage. It has been suggested that these miscarriages are caused by chromosome abnormalities in the sperm of ageing men. An increased risk for stillbirth has also been noticed in pregnancies fathered by men over the age of 45.
- Mental Illness like schizophrenia and autism – Great majority of findings supported the relation between advanced paternal age with schizophrenia and autism but less evidence is for relation with several other mental illness.
- Cancers – Advanced paternal age is associated with a risk of breast cancer. Also, there is a sufficient evidence of an increase in incidence of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia with advanced paternal age.
- Diabetes – Advanced paternal age is also seen having risk of type 1 diabetes in an infant. But its findings are still inconsistent.
- Down syndrome – Advanced paternal age might lead to Down syndrome but need more research to justify it.
- Infant’s intelligence – In a survey, highest IQ was found in infants born from young fathers i.e. 25-34. It means fathers less than 25 and more than 34 tend to have children with lower IQ level.
- Father’s fertility – The theory suggested that older men have decreased fertility rates, increased time to fertility and increased infertility too.
Role of fathers and his increased age
Researchers wanted to look at the role of the father. We all know that father contributes half the DNA, but there hasn’t been much focus given to the man’s age.
After analyzing data from more than 40 million births, team of researchers found that babies born to fathers older than 35 were at a higher risk for low birth weight, seizures, and need ventilation after birth. Men 45 or older were 14 percent more likely to have a child born prematurely, and men 50 or older were having a child that required admission to the neonatal intensive care unit. The researchers did not maintained the record of infant mortality.
On an average infants born from older fathers were 20.2 grams lighter, and had a 14 per cent increased risk of low body weight than infants born to fathers aged 25 to 34. Researchers says that the study was very beneficial as it offered rare picture of the impact of a father’s age on an infant.
Infants born from older fathers are at a risk of health problems such as, late still birth, low Apgar scores, higher incidence of newborn seizures, and birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate. As they matured, these children were found to develop childhood cancers, psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and autism.
Role of father’s age affecting mothers of child
A research showed that women who conceive baby with older fathers had an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. It is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and goes by itself after delivery. Women whose partners were over the age of 45 were 28 percent more prone to gestational diabetes, compared with fathers between the age of 25 and 34.
Also, a study found that men of 45 years or older can experience decreased fertility and put their partners at risk for increased pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm birth.
Cause of increased health risks
There are different types of believes. Some says, it could be due to genetics, where every year the man accumulates two mutations in sperm DNA and some justify the possibility of epigenetic to DNA itself. These go to gene expression, how efficiently the different DNA become different protein. The mechanism can be through placenta, where if it hasn’t developed perfectly, it could affect child or mother. Theories are nice but they are speculative.
A renowned scientist, connects most of these health problems to a natural decline in testosterone that occurs with aging, sperm degradation and poorer semen quality. Still, some connections need few more research. Advanced paternal age in men can also lead to male infertility along with few more adverse changes such as lose muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance with age. Sperm also tend to lose fitness over the life cycle.
Damage to sperm from stresses can lead to a decrease in sperm number. This change in the sperm and egg passes from father to infant and become incorporated into the DNA of cells in the infant’s body. In addition to infertility, this can also influence the pregnancy itself. These heredity mutations also may contribute to the association of advancing paternal age and disorders in an infant, such as these children being diagnosed with critical problems like autism and schizophrenia.
Although it is already mentioned that infants born from older father are at a high risk of schizophrenia. The ratio is like 1:141 with fathers under 25 years, whereas 1:47 with fathers over 50 years of age. Some studies also proved that that the risk of autism starts increasing when the father reaches 30, plateaus after 40, and then increases with the speed at 50.
Results achieved from several researches and surveys
When compared with fathers between the age of 25-34 and 45-55, results showed:
- 14 percent more chance of infant born prematurely in advanced paternal age.
- 14 percent more chance of infant born with low birth weight.
- 14 percent more chance that infant need intensive care just after the birth.
- 18 percent more chance of having a seizure.
- 4 percent more chance of having low Apgar score.
- 28% more chance of gestational diabetes in women who get pregnant by older men.
Would-Be Parents, need not to Panic
Men should start for a family before they attain the age of 35 to avoid their babies having birth defects. While ideally couples should have children while they're both healthy and likely to have the best chance of fertility. The strong point of studies is the amount of information available with researchers, but it also has certain limitations. As it is an observational study, it can’t directly show that the advanced paternal age result premature baby.
Some studies shows that older fathers may lead less healthy lifestyles than younger fathers, like, drinking excess alcohol, and being more likely to be overweight or have certain chronic diseases. This could too influenced such results. The absolute risks may seem high but the overall risks of some of these events are rare, and the increase in risks is modest.