It’s easy to think that your age doesn’t matter when it comes to having a child. After all, celebrities such as Robert De Niro and Rupert Murdoch have fathered healthy babies well into their twilight years. However, the truth about male fertility and age may surprise you.
Does my age affect my fertility?
- In short, yes. Although most men are able to have children well into their 50s and beyond, it becomes gradually more difficult after the age of 40. There are many reasons for this, including:
- Sperm quality tends to decrease with age. You may still produce a similar number of sperm in your 50s as you did in your 30s. However, their shape (morphology) and movement (motility) are both likely to deteriorate as you get older. As a result, it will be more difficult for them to fertilise an egg.
- From about the age of 40, your testosterone levels are likely to decrease. This may reduce your libido, or make it more difficult for you to have regular sex.
- Illnesses that decrease fertility are more common among older men. Certain medications for later-life medical problems can also interfere with fertility.
- Older men tend to have older partners. Female fertility starts to decline after the age of 30, dropping more sharply after the age of 35. The older your partner, the more difficult it may be to conceive.
- These factors don’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to father a child in later life. But they do mean that it’s likely to be more difficult.
Yes, the older you are, the longer it’s likely to take for you and your partner to conceive. This applies no matter how old she is. Other factors will play a part too, but in general, the chance of conception taking more than a year is:
- about eight per cent if you’re under 25
- about nine per cent if you’re 25 to 29
- about 12 per cent if you’re 30 to 34
- about 17 per cent if you’re 35 to 39
- about 19 per cent if you’re over 40
On average, if both partners in a couple are under 25, they’ll get pregnant within five months. But if the woman’s under 25 and the man is over 40, it can take up to two years.
Does my risk of having a baby with genetic problems increase as I age?
Unfortunately, certain genetic conditions do seem to be more common among babies with older fathers. You may be at a slightly increased risk of having a baby with the following conditions as you get older, particularly in your 40s and beyond:
Down’s syndrome. You may be up to five times more likely to have a baby with Down’s syndrome after 40 than you were before 30. However, bear in mind that the absolute risk is low. Even over 40, you’re still more likely to have a baby without Down’s syndrome than with it. In addition, research suggests that your age only affects your risk if your partner is over 35.
Sadly, your risk of conceiving a pregnancy which ends in miscarriage also increases as you age. The risk may be twice as high when you’re over 45 compared with when you were under 25. However, even when you’re over 45, your partner’s pregnancy is still more likely to continue than it is to miscarry. Some research has suggested that babies with a father younger than 20 may be more at risk of low birth weight and low Apgar scores. However, other studies haven’t found the same results. Although your age may influence these risks, it’s only one of a large number of factors. Other aspects of your life and your partner’s life, such as your family medical history and your lifestyle, will have a much bigger effect.
Does my partner’s age affect my own fertility?
Yes, it does. Your partner’s eggs have a built-in mechanism that can repair damaged DNA introduced by sperm. But the older she is, the less effective this will be. That’s why some of the risks of genetic disorders only matter when both the mum and dad are older. An age gap can make a difference, too. If your partner is at least five years younger than you, you’re less likely to conceive within a year than if you were the same age. It’s likely that this is partly because of the age difference itself, and not just because older men tend to be less fertile.
What can I do to protect my fertility as I age?
Happily, there’s plenty that you can do to keep your fertility and potency in tip-top condition. The following can all help to safeguard your chances of conceiving a healthy baby:
- Eat healthily. If you’re very overweight, losing a few pounds is likely to make it easier for you to conceive. Some studies suggest that a diet rich in antioxidants may also help conception, though the research for this is less conclusive.
- Stop smoking. Men who smoke tend to have lower-quality semen than non-smokers. Plus, if your partner does become pregnant, second-hand smoke will be dangerous for her and the baby. If you smoke, now is the perfect time to quit to improve your health and protect your family.
- Cut back on alcohol. Drinking more than the recommended amount of three units to four units a day can reduce your sperm quality. Try to stay well within these guidelines while you’re trying to conceive. One unit of alcohol is about half a pint of standard-strength beer or a 25ml measure of spirits.
- Keep your groin cool. Your testicles make the best sperm when they’re slightly cooler than the rest of your body. So you may want to avoid using laptops or sitting still in hot rooms for long periods of time. The research is still out on whether wearing loose-fitting underwear can help, but it may be worth a try.
- Minimise stress. Feeling calm and relaxed makes it much easier to get in the mood for sex. In addition, extreme stress may reduce sperm quality. So if you’re trying to conceive, take it easy as much as possible.
These tips may help to keep your fertility in tip-top condition. However, bear in mind that even healthy, fertile couples still sometimes take a little while to conceive.
If you and your partner have been trying for a baby without success for a year or more, go and see your GP. If your partner’s over 35, or either of you have any history of infertility, see your GP after six months of trying. He’ll arrange for you both to have tests, to see whether there could be a medical reason for your difficulties. Finally, you can comfort yourself with the fact that, while male fertility may gradually decline through the years, the majority of men will still be able to father a child at 60 and beyond.