- A major study has found that the health of a baby is affected not just by the mother’s age, but by the father’s, too.
- Older dads are more likely to father babies who are premature and have other birth complications.
- Equally, the partners of men over 45 are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than pregnant women whose partners are younger.
Much emphasis is often placed on the age of a mother when it comes to having a healthy baby and a healthy birth, but according to major new research, the age of the father plays a vital role, too.
A major new study suggests that babies born to fathers aged over 45 are more likely to be premature and have an increased risk of birth complications, such as seizures and low weight, than those whose fathers are younger.
The study, carried out by the Stanford University School of Medicine, also found that the age of the father can affect the health of the mother during pregnancy, with older men increasing a woman’s chance of developing diabetes.
Researchers analysed data from more than 40 million births between 2007 and 2016 in what is the first major study into older fatherhood.
They found a positive correlation between a father’s age and the risk of birth problems – men aged over 45 were 14% more likely to have a premature child than younger dads (aged 25-34), and men aged 50 or older were 28% more likely to father a child who needed to be put in the neonatal intensive care unit.
The findings suggest that above the age of 35, a man accumulates roughly two new mutations in the DNA of his sperm with every year that he ages. Once a man reaches the age of 55, the birth risks increase more sharply.
Researchers were shocked to discover a link between the father’s age and the health of the mother, too.
“What was really surprising was that there seemed to be an association between advanced paternal age and the chance that the mother would develop diabetes during pregnancy,” said Michael Eisenberg, MD, associate professor of urology and lead study author.
The partners of fathers aged over 45 were 38% more likely to develop gestational diabetes than those who were younger. The exact reason for this is as of yet unclear, however Eisenberg suspects it may be linked to the mother’s placenta.
Statistics show that both men and women are becoming first-time parents increasingly later in life. In the US, 10% of babies are born to fathers aged over 40, which is up from 4% four decades earlier.
Similarly, in the UK one in 20 births are to fathers aged over 45, according to the latest ONS figures.
The new findings come just days after a study confirmed that women don’t necessarily need to wait the previously recommended 18 months in between giving birth and getting pregnant again, news which was well received by many women worried about their “biological clock.”
“We tend to look at maternal factors in evaluating associated birth risks, but this study shows that having a healthy baby is a team sport, and the father’s age contributes to the baby’s health, too,” said Eisenberg.
However, he stresses that the findings don’t necessarily mean you should immediately alter your life plans.
“If you buy two lottery tickets instead of one, your chances of winning double, so it’s increased by 100%,” he said.
“But that’s a relative increase. Because your chance of winning the lottery started very small, it’s still unlikely that you’re going to win the lottery.
“This is a very extreme example, but the same concept can be applied to how you think about these birth risks.”