Babies born to teenage fathers have greater risk of birth problems

February 6, 2008

Babies born to teenage fathers are more likely to be born before term, have low birth weight and die within the first year of birth, according to new research published today. The results were independent of the age of the mother and other maternal factors that might be expected to have an impact on birth outcomes.

The study was led by researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital, and published in Europe’s leading fertility journal, Human Reproduction. With approximately 2.6 million US birth records included, the study is believed to be the largest examination yet of the effects of paternal age on adverse birth outcomes. To control for maternal factors, the researchers only examined records from married women aged 20 to 29 with no previous childbearing history. They also controlled for potential confounding factors such as maternal age, race, education level, smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

The analysis showed that babies born to teenage fathers were 15 per cent more likely to be born early, 13 per cent more likely to have low birth weight and 17 per cent more likely to be small for gestational age, compared to babies born to fathers aged 20 to 29. They were also 22 per cent more to die within the first four weeks of birth and 41 per cent more likely to die five weeks to one year after birth, although in all cases the absolute risk of death remained less than 0.5 per cent. Fathers aged 40 and over did not have an increased risk of any of the adverse birth outcomes evaluated.

“Our study indicates that being a teenage father is an independent risk factor for adverse birth outcomes, while advanced paternal age is not,” said study author Dr. Shi Wu Wen, Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. “The mechanism of this effect is not clear, but both biological and socio-economic factors could be playing a role. Further investigation may lead to a deeper understanding of the causes of these adverse birth outcomes.”

Authors of this study are supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The research data was obtained from the National Center for Health Statistics in the USA.

For more information, see the Human Reproduction press release and full research paper.

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