Father’s Day: Is late fatherhood à la Al Pacino, Robert De Niro risky?

This Father's Day, let us take a look at a growing trend of late fatherhood. Recently, 'Godfather' actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, both 70-plus, have become dads. But doesn't paternal age affect a child's health?
Risks of late fatherhood
Hollywood legends Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have recently embraced late fatherhood. Image courtesy: Instagram | Tribeca
Radhika Bhirani Updated: 17 Jun 2023, 07:24 am IST
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Al Pacino is 83. Robert De Niro is 79. Prabhudeva is 50. Besides the common thread of their love for acting, the three celebrated artistes have recently landed an uncanny link in life: late fatherhood. While Pacino has had his fourth child – a first with his 29-year-old partner, De Niro recently welcomed his seventh child. Prabhudeva has also embraced fatherhood for the fourth time. While women have a biological clock, these celebrities make us wonder if age really is no bar to become a daddy! This Father’s Day, let us explore the risks of late fatherhood and ways to improve fertility in men.

Women are commonly coaxed into bearing at least one child before their reproductive age begins to decline and end at menopause. It is established that late motherhood may affect a woman’s ability to conceive, increases risk of miscarriages and chromosomal abnormalities in children born. But today, many older men are fathering children.

Many, like actor-comedian Amy Schumer, have been vocal about finding late fatherhood “weird” and “uncomfortable”. But one look at Hollywood history and you know, ageing fathers is not a new phenomenon. From Charlie Chaplin and Hugh Hefner to Mick Jagger and Alec Baldwin – they’ve been there and done that!

Prabhudeva has become a father for the fourth time
Indian actor-filmmaker Prabhudeva’s fourth child is his first baby with second wife Himani Singh. Image courtesy: Instagram | Prabhudheva

Is there an age limit to fertility in men?

“In contrast to women where fertility ceases at menopause, sperm production continues throughout life in men. There is no consensus about the definition of advanced paternal age but is believed to be over 35-45 years of age. In fact, reduction in the quality of semen is observed after 35-40 years of age,” Dr Sumana Gurunath, Consultant Infertility and Reproductive Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru, tells Health Shots.

A father-to-be’s health and age can affect his partner’s chances of becoming pregnant, as well as the future health of the baby.

“Male fertility may be affected by a variety of factors, including sperm delivery blockages, reduced sperm production, and poor sperm function. It may be impacted by ailments, accidents, long-term health issues, lifestyle decisions and other factors,” explains Dr Beena Muktesh, Clinical Director – Fertility and IVF, Motherhood Fertility and IVF.

How age can affect male fertility

There are multiple factors that may affect a man’s reproductive health. Yet, male fertility is maintained until very late in life and has been observed in men in their 80s and 90s, says Dr Gurunath. Let us take a look at some of the ways age affects male fertility.

1. Age affects semen

Increasing age is known to be associated with decreased semen volume and reduced sperm motility. The integrity of sperm DNA has also been observed to decline. This is because of reduced function of accessory glands, capacity to repair cellular damage, blood flow and systemic diseases, explains Dr Gurunath. “Sperm from older men have higher DNA fragmentation and chromosomal abnormalities and this may even increase the risk of miscarriage,” she adds.

2. Delayed conception

An ageing father may reduce the ability for the couple to conceive naturally. “Older men may take longer to father a child compared to younger men,” says the expert.

3. Erectile dysfunction

Older men may experience increased rate of erectile dysfunction and reduced sexual activity. Associated medical conditions or drugs used for their treatments may affect sexual performance.

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Erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction can affect a man’s ability to reproduce. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Health of children born to older fathers

According to experts and various studies, advanced paternal age is associated with various outcomes such as:

* Increased risk of a stillborn baby.
* Children born are more likely to be of low birth weight and premature.
* Single gene disorders in children such as achondroplasia, osteogenesis imperfecta, neurofibromatosis, Marfan’s syndrome, craniosynostoic diseases such as Apert’s syndrome are all associated with older fathers.
* Men over 50 years have a 26 percent increase in risk of musculoskeletal abnormalities in children.
* There may be increased risk of childhood cancers such as Acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
* Children born to older fathers were also more likely to have poor social functioning.

Apart from these issues, children born to older parents may experience early parental death and its emotional, social and economic repercussions. Dr Gurunath says, “The impact of older women on fertility and health of the child is undoubtedly much greater. Nonetheless, the consequences of the ageing sperm cannot be overlooked.”

Paternal age can affect baby health
Paternal age can affect a baby’s health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Ways to improve male fertility

Taking consistent care of reproductive health is as important for a man as it is for a woman. If you wish to be a dad now or choose late fatherhood, Dr Muktesh suggests some simple steps to improve male fertility.

1. Have a general health examination

This is important to determine any health issues that must be resolved before a man begins trying to conceive. Get a sperm test, a sexually transmitted infection (STI) test, and a general health examination, to help you check sperm quality, quantity and STI status.

2. Sperm analysis test

The doctor explains that this analysis will evaluating the general sperm parameters that can impact a man’s ability to make a woman pregnant.

3. Eat healthy and exercise

Weight management is a must by engaging in regular exercise and eating a nutritious diet, says Dr Muktesh. Reducing processed food consumption, including enough fruits and vegetables with proteins and carbohydrates in your diet, adequate sleep, staying well-hydrated are important. Also consume foods with nutrients such as zinc and vitamin E that are crucial for healthy sperm production.

4. Check your medication

It is best to consult your doctor if you are taking any medication, vitamins or supplements which may affect your fertility. Fertility can also be impacted by cancer therapies like radiation and chemotherapy, adds the expert.

5. Control stress levels

Stress levels can may rise as you age due to lifestyle factors. Indulge in relaxation exercises such as yoga, breathing exercises and meditation regularly.

6. Avoid smoking and alcohol

Smoking contributes to male infertility. “Comprehensive research has shown that smoking is linked to considerably lower sperm counts as well as poor sperm motility, morphology, and genetic health. If you stop smoking, your fertility may start to recover to normal within six months and may become better pretty rapidly after that,” says Dr Muktesh.

Smoking affects fertility
Smoking affects fertility in both men and women. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

7. Reduce exposure to pollutants and heat

Your sperm may be impacted by pollution and toxins in daily life. Heavy metals, certain chemicals and plastics, radiation, and pesticides are a few of these. Besides this, your sperm count can be impacted by high pressure, heat and electromagnetic radiation. As a result, lingering in hot pools and saunas is not advised. Additionally, refrain from putting your phone in the pocket of your lowers!

The last word

While we support the freedom for women to choose if and when they want to have children, it is the same for men. Let’s not judge anybody for choosing late fatherhood, but wish that whenever anyone chooses to have a child, it’s a healthy pregnancy and childbirth experience.

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About the Author

Radhika Bhirani is a journalist with close to 15 years of experience in the Indian media industry. After writing extensively on health, lifestyle and entertainment, she leads the English content team at Health Shots. She has a special interest in writing on mental health and wellness. ...Read More

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