Babies are expensive. Maybe that's why it seems like every year the average age for people to start having their first child gets pushed back further and further, as potential parents wait to be financially stable enough to afford kids. Many older millennials have partners who are on the other side of 40, and they wonder what that means for their children. Does it make a difference if your baby's father is older? What are some ways having a dad affects your baby later in life? Because, let's face it: 40 is younger than it's ever been, so it's unlikely this trend will decline any time soon.
Last year, a study in Human Reproduction found that the average age of fathers has been steadily increasing since 1952, and that the number of men over the age of 40 fathering children is also rapidly increasing. Not that this is anywhere near a new phenomenon. If you're a fan of history (or just The Tudors), you likely already know all about medieval and early modern marriages of older men to much younger women solely for the purpose of bearing an heir. Times have changed (for the most part), and now it's not only the nobility having children later in life. As NPR reported, roughly nine percent of all births in the United States are to men over the age of 40. That's a huge number, and according to the journal Genetic Medicine, this widespread trend is not without its risks. Children born to fathers over 40 are more susceptible to myriad genetic and chromosomal issues as well as physiologic problems, but they're also oftentimes born with more resources at their disposal than children of younger dads. Whether positive or negative, these circumstances can affect your baby for the rest of their lives, as they face these particular benefits and risks:
1. Increased Risk of Cancer
Dr. Ilana Ressler, a Reproductive Endocrinologist with RMA of Connecticut, tells Romper that there is a slightly elevated risk of childhood cancer for children born to men over the age of 40, "specifically acute lymphoblastic leukemia and retinoblastoma."
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wrote that "Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell)," while "retinoblastoma is a very rare childhood cancer that forms in the tissues of the retina" and can occur in one eye or both.
2. Increased Risk of Bipolar Disorder.
Dr. Joshua Hurwitz, another Reproductive Endocrinologist with RMA of Connecticut, tells Romper that "In general, the paternal biological clock does not kick in until the very late forties and early fifties. It shows up in ways that are different than the maternal biological clock." While for women, "reproductive aging manifests as decreased fertility and increased risk of miscarriages and Down Syndrome-type disorders" (hence all those chromosomal tests and ultrasound nuchal screenings) men face different challenges as their sperm ages. Specifically, Dr. Hurwitz says, babies born to men over 40 have a slightly increased risk of developing bipolar disorder.
3. Increased Risk of Autism
The older your father is, the more likely it is that your child will develop autism. This was found to be the case when Genetic Medicine published their guidelines, and both Ressler and Hurwitz agree that this is definitely one of the risks of having babies later in life.
We know so little about what causes autism, but this is one link that has been proven over and over.
4. They're Better Off Financially
Yes, there are a lot of risks associated with having children later in life, but there are also a ton of rewards for your kids.
Like the fact that you might have your student loans paid off, or at least be making enough money that it's not a struggle. A report on NPR noted that one of the key benefits of having a dad over 40 is that they're more financially ready to have children. It goes without saying that children born to financially stable parents have advantages that undeniably shape their futures: Better education, healthcare, nutrition, childcare... the list goes on.
5. Single Point Mutations More Likely
I know what you're thinking: "What are single-point mutations?" Simply put, as per the Biology Dictionary, "A point mutation is a type of mutation in DNA or RNA, the cell’s genetic material, in which one single nucleotide base is added, deleted or changed." Sometimes, a single point mutation does nothing, but sometimes, it can render a protein worthless.
When it happens as an embryo develops, that embryo could develop a disorder like achondroplastic dwarfism, the most common form of dwarfism, according to the National Institutes of Health (which Dr. Hurwitz lists as one of the risks of having an older father).
6. More Emotionally Stable Parents
As Psychology Today revealed, people in their forties said they were more emotionally ready for children, and more stable in their mental health overall. This is a boon for the children. Vanderbilt reported that children born to parents who are more stable and available lead more secure and successful lives.
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.