The data even suggest that the age of the father can sway the health of the mother during pregnancy, specifically her risk for developing diabetes.
"We tend to look at maternal factors in evaluating associated birth risks, but this study shows that having a healthy baby is a team sport, and the father's age contributes to the baby's health, too," said Michael Eisenberg, MD, associate professor of urology.
Data from more than 40 million births showed that babies born to fathers of an "advanced paternal age," which roughly equates to older than 35, were at a higher risk for adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, seizures and need for ventilation immediately after birth. Generally speaking, the older a father's age, the greater the risk. For example, men who were 45 or older were 14% more likely to have a child born prematurely, and men 50 or older were 28% more likely to have a child that required admission to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Still, these numbers aren't reason to drastically change any life plans, as the risks are still relatively low, Eisenberg said. He compared the increased risks to buying lottery tickets. "If you buy two lottery tickets instead of one, your chances of winning double, so it's increased by 100%," he said. "But that's a relative increase. Because your chance of winning the lottery started very small, it's still unlikely that you're going to win the lottery. This is a very extreme example, but the same concept can be applied to how you think about these birth risks."
Instead, Eisenberg sees the findings as informational ammunition for people planning a family and hopes that they will serve to educate the public and health officials.
A paper describing the study will be published online in the British Medical Journal.