Father’s age and Pregnancy

Thursday, September 6, 2012

In rich countries, women have their children later: being pregnant after the age of 35 is not an exception.

We have all heard about the danger of pregnancy when the mother’s age is over 35. Risks increase for the mother and the baby: pre-eclampsia, miscarriage, problems during childbirth. 

Moreover, scientists have proved that being pregnant after the age of 35 is linked to a major risk of genetic diseases. The most common is Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, a chromosomal condition caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with a delay in cognitive ability and physical growth, and a particular set of facial characteristics. A large proportion of individuals with Down syndrome have a severe degree of intellectual disability, and they also have several abnormalities like congenital heart disease, thyroid disorders, an increase risk of developing cancers etc.

What about father’s age? As we have just seen, mother’s age is linked to genetic conditions, is it the same thing when the father gets older?

According to an article published on the site WebMD, father’s age may matter more than the mother’s when it comes to the risk of some disorders like autism in children.

Scientists have discovered that the number of de novo mutations in children increases by two for every year of the father’s age. The whole amount doubles every 16.5 years.
Previous studies have linked these genetic mutations to autism, schizophrenia and other developmental disorders.
Kari Stefansson, MD, PhD, CEO of deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland explains: “It's very likely that the increase in autism in our society of late is at least partly explained by the increase in average age of fathers”.

So we are done with the traditional sentence: “men can wait as long as they want to have children”. This is not true, not all men can have children when they get older. If they do, they stand a higher risk of having a child with a genetic defect.

Mother’s age is commonly known to be linked to genetic conditions because mass media have broadcast information for many years. However, the link between father’s age and genetic conditions is new. It is important to broadcast it too because it is a public health concern.

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