Mid 30s - late to be a father?

Updated: Oct 19, 2010, 18:33 PM IST

Dr Witty Raina

A guy when approached for marriage in mid twenties generally gets irritated. His aspirations and freedom seem to be at stake for him at this age. Carrying cool dude impression his view on marriage and parenting changes after he crosses 30.

Is this attitude and decision right? Check on a man before you say no to it. Whilst the topic of "older fathers" is increasingly making headlines, what is perhaps less well-known is that there can be risks - both physical and mental - associated with fathering offspring later in life.

It is widely recognized that a 40-year-old woman has an increased risk of bearing a child with Down syndrome. What is not known is that a 40-year-old man has the same risk of fathering a child with schizophrenia — and even higher odds of his offspring having autism. In the past couple of decades, the number of older fathers has increased.

According to a study in Israel, it was found that children born to older fathers had nearly a six-fold increase in the risk of autism as compared with kids whose fathers were younger than 30.

The advanced paternal age, as it is called, has also been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, cleft lip and palate, water on the brain, dwarfism, miscarriage and “decreased intellectual capacity.”

Also, recent research revealed that compared to younger dads, fathers in the older age group were more inclined to be less tolerant of their children`s physical activities, perceiving them to be more impulsive and overactive. Older dads apparently also show less affection and warmth towards their partner.

The incidences of certain rare birth disorders, such as dwarfism or achondroplasia (a genetic disorder that affects bone growth and is the most common growth-related birth defect), have become quite popular. It occurs in about one in every 25,000 births, affects all races, both males and females, limits their growth to about four feet, and is more common amongst births to older fathers. Some of these defects, thought to be new mutations, are only detectable later in life, e.g. schizophrenia.

Apert syndrome, which afflicts one in every 70,000 children who are born with fused bones in their heads, hands and feet, is also linked to the father`s age. It’s likely that the number of cell divisions that go into making a sperm plays a large role in the link between Apert syndrome and paternal age, and represents a fundamental difference between how aging egg and sperm can impact the health of a child. In men, these mutations do not inherit, but rather collect over time in the reservoir of primitive cells that become sperm.

Abnormalities in women`s eggs can be picked up more easily, as almost all divisions in a woman`s eggs occur before she is born. But men, too, have a biological time clock - only it is different. Men seem to have a gradual, rather than an abrupt change in fertility and in the potential ability to produce viable, healthy offspring.

Also the young men should know and keep in mind that women who become pregnant by older men are at far greater risk of having a miscarriage. Even after a range of other risk factors which contribute to miscarriage were taken into account, such as smoking during pregnancy and maternal diabetes, the risk was still higher. It was also about three times greater when the man was aged between 35 and 39 years of age, than if he were younger than 25.

The older a man the longer it may take his partner to conceive, regardless of her age. Women with partners five or more years older have less chance of conceiving within a year of trying than those whose partners are of the same age, or younger. The odds of conceiving within 6 months of trying decrease by 2% for every year the man is older than 24 years, and for conception within a year decrease by 3% for each year.

It is likely that kids of older fathers may have low IQs and do not perform well in intelligence tests during infancy and childhood.

It seems that there are two potentially big hazards involved in late – or comparatively late – fatherhood. The first of these is that it becomes difficult to relate to the children when they are growing up, simply because of the age gap. They, in turn, peer across an unbreachable generation gap.

As above mentioned difficulties arise in late fatherhood due to changing global conditions, lifestyle, time scenario etc, why not take precaution and live our life in a controlled manner while following nature’s law. It is cool to be a “young dad”. Besides you have innate capability and resilience at young age to accept the challenges and responsibility of parenthood as it comes.

(Dr Witty Raina is Sr Gynecologist at The Cradle.)