A new study, published in the journal Maturitas, indicates that older men have decreased fertility and may put their partners at increased risk for pregnancy complications. Their children may also be at higher risk for developing certain medical conditions later in life.
Researchers at Rutgers University reviewed 40 years of research on the effect of paternal age on fertility, pregnancy, and the health of children. The study found that old men struggled with fertility issues even if their partners were under the age of 25. In addition, for men who were 45 years of age or older when they conceived, their partners experienced increased pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and preterm birth. The children of older fathers were found to be at higher risk for preterm birth, late still birth, low Apgar scores (an assessment of a baby’s well-being immediately after birth), low birth weight, higher risk of seizures, and higher risk of birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate. Also, later in life, the children of older fathers were found to have a higher risk of childhood cancers, psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and autism.
“In addition to advancing paternal age being associated with an increased risk of male infertility, there appears to be other adverse changes that may occur to the sperm with aging. For example, just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men sperm also tend to lose ‘fitness’ over the life cycle,” said study author Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women’s Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
While most couples are aware of the effects of advancing maternal age on fertility, this study shows us that we should be paying more attention to paternal age. Men who want to delay conception should counseled about these risks and be aware of their fertility preservation options. For men who want to delay conception, one way they might be able to mitigate some of the risks found by this study, is to freeze sperm prior to age 35 or at least before age 45.