When should we conceive?

Our bodies were designed to wander around a jungle for 30–40 years, having our head ripped off by a sabre-tooth tiger or dying of some infection. Young girls went through puberty at around 10–12 years old and had conceived a child in those days in their early teens. The grandmother was in her late 20s and helped the teenage girl look after the baby. The fathers were all less than 25 years old and most did not survive beyond age 40.

Heart disease and cancer were almost unheard of with the vast majority of people dying from trauma or infection. This article published in the Journal “Maturitis” came to the disturbing conclusion that older fathers affect the health of their partners and put unborn children at risk. The article reviewed 40 years of research looking at the effects of paternal age on fertility, pregnancy and the health of the conceived child.

My eldest granddaughter, Edith

It has been well established that women conceiving over the age of 35 have issues in 3 areas:

  1. Fertility
  2. The health of the mother during pregnancy
  3. The health of the unborn child and also health throughout the life of the child following birth.

We therefore have to ask the question, does the age of the father affect any of these factors? Advanced paternal age has been defined as anywhere between 35–45. In the United States of America, children born to fathers older than 45 has increased 10% over the past 40 years.

The study showed clearly that men conceiving beyond the age of 45 have issues in the following areas, almost certainly related to reduction in testosterone, sperm degradation and quality:

  1. Reduced ability to conceive
  2. Increased risk for pregnancy complications affecting the mother such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia (which is severe hypertension, kidney problems and fluid retention), along with preterm birth
  3. Problems for the child-including late stillbirth, preterm birth and low Apgar scores (which are indications of the health of the child at birth), low birth weight, increased tendency to seizures and birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate. As the child ages there are increased risk for childhood cancers, schizophrenia, ADHD and autism.

To take the example of schizophrenia, the incidence is 1 in 141 infants for fathers conceiving below age 25 but increases to 1 in 47 for fathers older than 50. It is also an interesting fact that older fathers struggle with fertility even when their partners are younger than 25.

With the increasing trend in our society for women to delay having children, this is typically associated with older fathers conceiving as well. Many people want to establish their careers and enough money to be able to fund the child’s existence. But, we must ask ourselves at what cost? There is no doubt that many older parents do conceive normally and have normal healthy children. But when the older parents do have children with some significant disability or the mother’s health is significantly affected by the pregnancy, this can lead to disastrous consequences for the family. I fully understand that our modern world has changed and there are increasing demands from many angles on individuals and families. But it is better to work and live closer to our physiology and thus consider having children at a much younger age for the health of all involved.

Another important point that seems to be forgotten here is that parents conceiving older means that you have to tolerate teenagers in your 50s and 60s which is not an easy task. Teenagers can certainly make a parent’s life misery by their (at times) objectionable behaviour and it is my view that you certainly need to be young and energetic to cope with this.

Another factor here that no one is really considering is that of grandparents. As people wait to conceive, they increasingly rely on members of their family and in particular grandparents to assist in the upbringing of the children and if they wait too long, the grandparents have either passed on or are too old to really get involved at a significant level. It would be my suggestion that we need to start a firm debate in society around these issues as I believe this current generation of parents will be creating significant social problems at many levels.