Women are usually encouraged to have children when they are young, preferably in their twenties or early thirties, so as to reduce health complications linked to advanced age pregnancies.
Over the years, such messages have mainly targeted women, leading to the rollout of various health interventions aimed at reducing their vulnerability to the complications.
Men rarely feature in these conversations. And this has led many people to believe that they can sire healthy babies at any point in their life.
But new research published in The BMJ paints a different picture. The study found that as the age of the father increased, so did the risk of the infant being born prematurely, having a low birth weight and requiring healthcare support after delivery.
“A significant number of these negative birth outcomes were estimated to be prevented if older fathers had elected to have children before the age of 45 years. The risks associated with advancing paternal age should be included in discussions regarding family planning and reproductive counselling,” the researchers stated.
Even though the absolute risks remain low, they stress that the findings emphasise the importance of including men in preconception care-and the need to further investigate the public health implications of rising paternal age.
to public health messaging and primary care are needed to promote awareness of the role of male factors, including paternal age, in perinatal (immediately before and after birth) outcomes,” said Hilary Brown, an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, in an editorial linked to the study.
the study, researchers at Stanford University in California accessed data on all 40,529,905 live births that took place in the US between 2007 and 2016 to look at the impact of paternal age on a range of outcomes for the infant and the mother.
They found that as the age of the father increased so did the risk of the infant being born prematurely, having a low birth weight, and requiring healthcare support after delivery - such as antibiotics, assisted ventilation, and admission to neonatal intensive care.
Aside from being born earlier, children of fathers aged 45 years or more had a 14 percent higher chance of being premature (less than 37 weeks) compared to those whose fathers were aged 25 to 34 years.
Moreover, they were born lighter by 20.2g and had 18 percent higher odds of having seizures, compared with infants of younger dads.
The risk of gestational diabetes for pregnant women also increased in line with the age of the father, with women carrying the child of a man aged 55 years or older having a 34 percent higher risk of gestational diabetes.
Past studies have noted that advanced paternal age might be associated with a slightly higher risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage) or stillbirth, as well as certain rare birth defects, pertaining to the development of the skull, limbs and heart.
Research also shows a link between older paternal age and an increased frequency of autism spectrum disorder or the risk of developing mental disorders like schizophrenia with symptoms that are likely to be noticeable at an early age.
It is thought that the increased risk of health conditions might be due to random genetic mutations in sperms that occur more commonly in older men than in younger men.
Despite these concerns, the overall risks tied to older men remain small and less certain than those associated with maternal age over 40.
Nevertheless, health experts recommend that older couples wishing to conceive children should be better informed of the risks of conditions that can occur in their offspring so they are not caught off guard when complications arise.
In addition, where possible, adequate measures need to be put in place to mitigate risk factors such as regular antenatal check-ups as well as screening tests for high blood sugar or pressure that can be detrimental to both the mother and child.