Al Pacino fathers child aged 83: What are the health risks to babies with older dads?

There could be implications for both the child and the mother.

Al Pacino. (Getty Images)
Al Pacino is to be a new dad again in his 80s. (Getty Images)

Al Pacino is the latest male celeb to be expecting a baby in old age. The actor, 83, is reportedly having his fourth child with girlfriend Noor Alfallah, 29.

But while the risks of being an older mum are largely well known – including pre-eclampsia, premature birth, or having a child with Down's syndrome – what do we know about the complications of being an older dad?

Men are known to be able to conceive later than women, but here we look at whether doing so can pose health risks, and who for.

Full frame close up photo of senior men and baby hands. They are holding each others hands. Shot with a full frame DSLR camera and a macro lens.
Why the risks may be relatively low, they are there. (Getty Images)

Are there health risks to babies born to an older dad?

Generally speaking, yes.

"Studies have shown that babies born to men aged 45 or older were more likely to be born prematurely, have a low birth weight and need intensive care after birth than babies with younger fathers," says GP Dr. Hana Patel.

"The increase in risk was small, but because more men and women are having children later in life, researchers say men should be aware that delaying fatherhood is not risk-free."

Studies linking paternal age with birth risks

In 2018, Stanford scientists analysed a decade of data spanning more than 40 million births, linking older fathers with a variety of increased birth risks. Their findings even suggested the age of a father can impact the health of the mother during pregnancy, in particular her risk of 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 study author Michael Eisenberg, associate professor of urology, at the time.

The data showed babies born to fathers of an "advanced paternal age" (roughly over 35), were at a higher risk of low birth weight, seizures and needing ventilation immediately after birth. "The older the age, the greater the risk."

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 needed to be admitted to the intensive care unit.

However, this was seen as relatively low in the grand scheme of things. But, with some risk still apparent, and often previously disregarded, researchers hoped the findings would help educate both the public and health officials more.

Senior man with baby. (Getty Images)
More and more men are having children later in life. (Getty Images)

Echoing this, another study in 2019 found that men 45 and older can experience decreased fertility and put their partners at risk of increased pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and premature birth.

Infants born to older fathers were found to be at higher risk of:

  • premature birth

  • late stillbirth

  • low health scores after delivery

  • low birth weight

  • higher incidence of newborn seizures

  • birth problems like congenital heart disease (a range of birth defects that affect the normal way the heart works)

  • cleft palate (a gap or split in the upper lip and/or roof of the mouth)

As they grew older, these children were found to have an increased likelihood of childhood cancers, psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and autism.

Study author Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, attributed most of these outcomes to a natural decline in testosterone that occurs with ageing, as well as degrading sperm and poorer semen quality, though admitted more research was needed.

"While women tend to be more aware and educated than men about their reproductive health, most men do not consult with physicians unless they have a medical or fertility issue," Bachmann highlighted.

She recommended doctors should 'counsel' older men similarly to how they do women about conception, and men should consider banking sperm while younger, to decrease the increased health risks to both mother and child.

male gp sits with his male patient andchats to him  . He has listened to all his symptoms and has come up with an assessment and area he needs to look at.
Some experts have suggested men should also be advised about conception. (Getty Images)

Looking through another lens, one 2020 study also analysed the link between paternal age and offspring birth problems. "As fathers age, they are exposed to various environmental risk factors, which are involved in the formation and maintenance of epigenetic patterns [the way your genes work]; these epigenetic modifications have serious consequences for offspring, often contributing to the early onset of diseases," the study authors explained.

Environmental risk factors may include physical factors like radiation and high temperature, chemical factors like alcohol and chemical compounds, and biological factors like viruses and bacteria.

"Older fathers have less antioxidant capacity (ability to counteract this), and environmental risk factors which may lead to new mutations (changes) and DNA damage in some key DNAs related to fetal development."

They found that older fathers (40 and over) could increase the risk of cardiovascular abnormalities, facial deformities, urogenital abnormalities, and chromosome disorders in their offspring.

Interestingly, while they found young fathers (20 and under) could increase the risk of urogenital (urinary and genital organs) abnormalities and chromosome disorders in their offspring, in general, younger fathers had less effect on birth defects compared to older ones.

Watch: Al Pacino is to be a father again at the age of 82