Study questionDoes parental fertility, measured by time to pregnancy (TTP), or use of medically assisted reproduction (MAR) affect pubertal development in the offspring?
Summary answerNeither TTP nor type of MAR treatment had clinically relevant implications for mean age at achieving individual pubertal milestones or overall timing of puberty in boys and girls.
What is known alreadyParental TTP and MAR have been associated with impaired semen quality in adult sons. Timing of puberty reflects earlier signals of reproductive health, but it remains unclear whether parental fertility or MAR affects pubertal development, especially in the growing generation of children conceived by IVF or ICSI.
Study design, size, durationIn this study, 15 819 children born by mothers in the Danish National Birth Cohort from 2000 to 2003 participated in a nationwide puberty cohort (participation rate = 70%). Parental TTP and use of MAR were reported by mothers in early pregnancy and children's pubertal development data was self-recorded in web-based questionnaires from 11 years of age and 6 monthly throughout puberty (2012-2018).
Participants/materials, setting, methodsPubertal development in children (of planned pregnancies, n = 13 285) born by untreated subfecund (TTP: 6-12 months) (n =2038), untreated severely subfeund (TTP: >12 months) (n = 1242), treated subfecund (n = 230) and treated severely subfecund (n = 1234) parents were compared to children born to more fertile parents (TTP: ≤5 months). We estimated mean monthly differences in mean age at achieving individual pubertal milestones (i.e. age at menarche, voice break, first ejaculation and Tanner stages 2, 3, 4 and 5 for breast or genital development and pubic hair growth) and a combined indicator of timing of puberty. Further, we compared mean age at achieving the individual pubertal milestones in children born by use of IVF or ICSI (n = 480) with children born by controlled ovarian stimulation or ovulation induction with or without intrauterine insemination (n = 902).
Main results and the role of chanceWe found tendencies towards slightly later mean age at male pubertal timing and slightly earlier mean age at female pubertal timing among children born by untreated subfecund, treated subfecund, untreated severely subfecund and treated severely subfecund parents. There were no specific patterns with increasing TTP, use of MAR nor type of MAR treatment, and the magnitude of the mean differences for individual milestones and overall timing of puberty were small, i.e. 0.9 months (95% CI: -1.0; 2.8) for first ejaculation and -0.5 months (95% CI: -2.0; 1.0) months for age at menarche in boys and girls, respectively, born by treated severely subfecund parents when compared with children born by more fertile parents.
Limitations, reasons for cautionNon-differential misclassification of the self-reported information on parental TTP and pubertal development in the offspring may serve as an alternative explanation of the findings, possibly biasing the estimates towards the null. The information on pubertal development was collected from around 11 years of age and onwards.
Wider implications of the findingsThis study adds to the growing body of literature suggesting only limited harmful effects of parental subfecundity and MAR on offspring's long-term growth and development.
Study funding/competing interest(s)This work was supported by the Danish Council for Independent Research [DFF 4183-00152]; and the Faculty of Health at Aarhus University. The authors have no financial relationships or competing interests to disclose.