Age of Baby’s Father and Pregnancy
To the Point– As fathers age, there is some increased chance for certain birth defects and genetic conditions- specifically conditions that are related to changes in single genes. In general, the overall chance to have a baby with a condition related to these single gene conditions is pretty small and is in most cases expected to be less than 1%. There is nothing dad can do to cause or prevent these conditions. In general, there is not an easy way to test for the conditions that are increased in risk based on dad’s age, however, prenatal ultrasound at 18-20 weeks gestation to evaluate the baby’s growth and development is recommended by the American College of Genetics & Genomics.
So, we talk A LOT about mom and mom’s age during pregnancy. But, dad’s age matters too. There is no consensus on when dad is officially of the age when this increased risk should be discussed. Some providers start talking about dad’s age when he is over 40, some wait until 45 or 50. Regardless, there are some genetic conditions and birth defects that increase in frequency as the father of the baby’s age increases.
Part of the reason that dad’s age doesn’t receive the same amount of attention as mom’s age is because the type of birth defects that occur more frequently as his age increases are not as easy to detect through prenatal testing. With mom’s age, the conditions that are increased in risk involve a whole extra chromosome (trisomy), which are easily detected by CVS and amniocentesis. In general, the conditions that are increased in risk based on dad’s age involve changes in an individual gene or multiple genes (and it only gets more complicated from there). The bottom line is that there is not an easy way (at least not yet) to offer prenatal testing for most of the conditions that are increased in risk with advanced paternal age.
Be reassured that the increased chances to have a baby with a paternal age-related condition is relatively low, probably less than 1%. Of course, all of these conditions occur in parents of any age and at this time there is nothing we know of that a parent could do to cause or prevent these conditions.
There is not an easy way to test or screen for all of the conditions that are associated with dad’s age. Some but not all genetic conditions can show some sign on prenatal ultrasound between 18-20 weeks.
1) Toriello, H.V., Meck J. M. Statement on guidance for genetic counseling in advanced paternal age. Genet Med 2008:10(6):457–460.