Even though culturally and statistically people are giving birth much older than in decades before, you’re still considered medically to be at risk for infertility and may undergo a high-risk pregnancy if you’re trying to get pregnant over the age of 35. This includes a higher likelihood of miscarriage and intrauterine complications, too. But just because the other half of the reproductive equation doesn’t have a uterus and carry the child, it doesn’t mean that the person who fathers the child is off the hook. We’re talking to you, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
Don’t take this the wrong way — we love celebrity babies too, and are going to celebrate pregnancy and birth announcements with the rest of Hollywood. But these guys are 79 and 83 years old, respectively — why isn’t anyone concerned about the health implications that come with their ages?
A study published in the British Medical Journal has shown that children with fathers older than 45 are 14% more likely to be born prematurely and have a lower birth weight. Even fathers over the age of 40 could moderately increase the risk of their children being born with cardiovascular birth defects such as congenital heart disease as well as chromosome disorders, according to recent research in the journal Aging. While the evidence isn’t completely conclusive, these are still major risks we should all be well-informed about.
As it turns out, these illnesses and birth defects can come from mutations in a father’s DNA. How does this happen? Here’s a quick biology crash course:
People with uteruses are born with a specific number of eggs, and since we don’t regenerate them, this number never grows, and the eggs can’t change genetically. Men, on the other hand, produce millions of sperm in a single day. Producing new sperm means copying and recopying DNA. This is a human process that occurs practically nonstop, so it’s not perfectly done every time. Mistakes happen, and this leads to some genetic mutations, or copying errors, in an individual sperm’s DNA.
And “mutation” sounds like a scary word, but one genetic mutation doesn’t mean the sperm will have three tails or make a green baby — most mutations are minor and quite harmless to us. The problem exists when the mutation occurs in a specific way that leads to a serious illness.
Where does age come into the picture? An older man has been producing sperm longer than a younger man, and so logically his body has had more time to accumulate mutations. The Aging study suggests that in comparison with children born to fathers aged 25 to 29, children born to older fathers are statistically at significantly more of a risk to be born with a cardiovascular illness or birth defect.
Before you panic, know that this doesn’t mean that all kids born to older dads are immediately going to develop an illness— percentages of these issues are still pretty low. However, some men are taking this information seriously and are proactively deciding to bank their younger, less mutated sperm.
Preparing to have kids years in the future makes perfect sense in some situations; maybe you’re waiting to become more financially stable or perhaps just more mature. Methods such as in vitro fertilization have opened the doors to new types of families with different types of plans. But how far should this go?
Do the math here: By the time Al Pacino’s child is 10, he will be 93 years old. And he’s not the only celebrity with this delayed goal of fatherhood — it seems to be a completely normalized trend. Mick Jagger had his seventh child at age 73. Steve Martin decided to have a daughter at age 67. Of course there’s Pacino’s Godfather costar Robert De Niro who just welcomed a baby girl in April 2023 at the age of 79. And the list goes on and on.
All celebrity gossip aside, it’s a valid point to consider. How would the life of a completely healthy child be impacted by having older parents? Will aging parents have the energy to keep up with a child’s high energy and bustling schedule? Will the child have to live without knowing their grandparents and other deceased relatives and watch their own parents’ health decline?
More: Totally Realistic Women and Their Biological Clocks
Maybe these celebrity parents don’t have to deal with the stress of retirement or finding the best medical care, but for the rest of us, the age of a man’s sperm — not just eggs — needs to fall into the fertility conversation immediately. Men have a biological clock too. And maybe they should be the ones getting the are-you-too-old-to-have-kids? talk for once.
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