Men who decide to become parents after age 35 are at greater risk of having premature or autistic children, research shows.
In addition, with each passing year, spermatozoa suffer significant declines in quantity and quality — which can make attempts to generate offspring more difficult.
This information is particularly important in a scenario where plans to have a baby are postponed until later, because of professional and educational projects.
And this occurs in a context in which only the risks of late motherhood are much better known among the population. In general, women are aware of the increased difficulty of pregnancy after 35 or 40 years.
On the father side (and little known) of this story, the good news is that there are recommendations, tests and treatments that allow you to follow each case and reduce the risks to the baby, as you can see below.
An increasingly frequent phenomenon
The doctor Karla Giusti Zacharias, who is a specialist in human reproduction and is part of the clinical staff of Rede D’Or – Hospital São Luiz Itaim, in São Paulo, reports that she frequently receives older men who wish to have a child in her office.
“I see patients in their 50s or 60s who are in a second marriage with a younger wife who wants to get pregnant”, he observes.
The question they bring to health professionals is precisely the one that appears in the title of this report: what are the risks of being an older father?
In general terms, the male reproductive system works in a completely different logic than the female one.
From puberty, which happens around the age of 10 to 14, men begin to manufacture sperm – production that continues throughout their lives.
Women are born with all eggs ready. They are also released from puberty, with each new menstrual cycle.
But the amount of gametes in them is limited — girls have between 300,000 and 500,000 eggs at the time of their first menstruation — and it usually almost runs out when they reach the age of 45 to 55, when menopause occurs.
In other words: while new sperm are constantly produced in the testes, eggs are kept in a kind of “savings store”, and released gradually throughout adolescence and adulthood.
But here comes the important question: although the manufacture of male gametes is constant, the quality of this process is not the same after a certain age.
Over the years, it is natural that these cells are made in smaller numbers and have more defects.
These flaws, in turn, can prevent fertilization (when a sperm enters the egg), which leads to difficulty having a child.
However, some research indicates that, even when attempts to generate an offspring are successful, there is a risk that the baby will more often present some health conditions, such as premature birth, postpartum complications and even autism.
What the studies say
A 2018 investigation at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the United States analyzed data from more than 40 million births and found that, in general, the older the father, the greater the risk to the child.
Men who have children after age 35 are at a relatively higher risk that their baby will be born with a low birth weight, have seizures, or need mechanical ventilation to breathe soon after delivery.
Individuals over 45 years of age are 14% more likely to have a premature baby (when the child is born before 37 weeks of gestation). In those over 50, there is a 28% higher risk of the newborn needing to spend time in a neonatal intensive care unit (ICU).
At the time of publication of the article, physician Michael Eisenberg, professor of urology and lead author of the research, clarified that such numbers should not be interpreted with alarmism. In his view, the findings help families plan well and make the necessary follow-ups.
“There is a tendency to look at maternal factors when evaluating the risks associated with birth. But our study shows that having a healthy baby is a team effort, and the father’s age also contributes to this”, he said.
A systematic review and meta-analysis article (a type of scientific work that compiles and organizes several previously published research on the same topic) published in 2017 pointed out another danger of late parenthood: the increased risk of autism.
In conclusion, the study points out that, for every 10-year increase in the age of the father, there is a 21% greater probability of the child having this neurological development disorder, which is related to difficulties in communication, social interaction and behavior.
Science still doesn’t know how to answer with certainty what one thing has to do with the other.
Dr Alfredo Canalini, president of the Brazilian Society of Urology, points out that there is evidence of a relationship between late paternity and a greater likelihood of diseases such as schizophrenia, but studies on the subject are not solid enough.
The specialist also points out that, even with the drop in the quality and quantity of sperm over the years, the tendency is for the fittest gametes to be successful and one of them to fertilize – which reduces the risks to the child’s health. that will be generated.
“The path to the egg can be compared to an ultramarathon, and generally only capable and healthy sperm are able to get close to the finish line”, he compares.
But, in the face of all these dangers, are there ways to minimize problems and ensure a healthy pregnancy?
how to be more protected
Canalini points out that there is no recipe for a cake to circumvent the possible dangers of late parenthood.
“The biology of the male reproductive system is very individualized and each man needs to undergo an appointment so that we can understand what is happening and what can be done”, he says.
Such a consultation involves the general practitioner or urologist, a doctor specializing in the urinary tract and male sexual and reproductive organs.
This evaluation can be done routinely, every year, when there is a desire to have a child or if some symptoms appear, such as excessive irritation, lack of libido, difficulty in having or maintaining an erection, in addition to frustrated attempts to get pregnant.
“And, of course, there are those classic recommendations that are valid for the health of the whole body, such as having a healthy diet, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, doing regular physical activity, not smoking, maintaining the proper weight…”, lists the doctor.
Zacharias recalls that, when lifestyle changes have not produced results, it is possible to start with specific tests and treatments.
“If there is a very bad profile of sperm, we can propose some therapies to improve their quality or quantity”, he summarizes.
Finally, the expert highlights a final risk that directly affects older parents: the workload involved with raising a child.
“We can’t forget that many older men are at a stage in their lives where they’ve worked hard and are more tired,” he points out.
“We need to put it on the scales and think about the importance of monitoring the child’s development, getting up at dawn to change diapers, playing…”
“Couples should talk about it so they always make the best decision for themselves and their family,” he concludes.
This text was originally published here
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