As people prepare to become parents, it’s all too easy to focus on the woman’s health and her ability to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. But these days we have a growing awareness that fertility difficulties also have to do with the male partner, and that there’s plenty that men can do to maximise their fertility and prepare for the best start in life for their baby.
In this article we look at the issue of preconception health for men. We propose a few simple dos and don’ts, as well as offering some male fertility tips and answering frequently asked questions about protecting the quality and quantity of sperm. We look at lifestyle issues and where to get help if low fertility, or even infertility, becomes an issue.
Why do men need to prepare for optimum preconception health?
We at IVI estimate that when a couple is experiencing difficulties with conceiving, the problem is 30% of the time due to male fertility problems, 30% female, and the other 40% due to a combination of both partners or unknown causes. It’s clear from these statistics that the preconception health of men is every bit as important as that of women. The only difference is that a woman’s health choices will affect the baby throughout the pregnancy, while the part played by the sperm is, of course, more time-limited.
Apart from a few specific medical conditions, in most cases it is the quality and quantity of the sperm that have the most impact on male fertility. The quantity of sperm is defined as low when there are fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen. This can make conception more difficult. Quality is also important, since a decrease in sperm mobility can make it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg in order for fertilisation to take place.
What are the dos and don’ts of preconception preparation for men?
Here are some positive measures that men can take to protect the quality of their sperm and prepare for conception:
- Keep cool. For the best sperm quality, they need to be as cool as possible. This means avoiding the frequent use of saunas, electric blankets and restrictive underwear. Even the friction and jostle of cycling can cause an increase in temperature or injury.
- Be aware of your work environment. There may be low-level risks like an over-stuffy office and long periods spent driving or seated, or there can be other more obvious occupational hazards, for example being exposed to some agents like pesticides and fertilisers, petrochemicals and radiation can all lead to a decrease in sperm quality and quantity.
- Maintain a healthy weight and keep up a sensible level of exercise. According to the NHS, being overweight can affect the quality of your sperm and make a pregnancy less likely. If being overweight were to lead to diabetes, this could have a serious impact on fertility, for example through erectile dysfunction and a reduction in sperm quality.
- Smoking can damage the DNA of sperm and heavy smoking increases the risk of the child developing leukaemia. In any case, since it is essential for a woman not to smoke before or during pregnancy, this is a good way to show support. As for alcohol, just keep it moderate.
- Take drugs. To protect your chances of fatherhood you need to avoid recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and heroin as these can do permanent damage to your fertility. You should also check prescription medications. Some medication, such as steroids and medication for depression and anxiety, can also have an impact. Consult your GP for advice and possible alternatives.
What are the differences in preconception health for men and women?
The preconception period is obviously an exciting time in any relationship and one where mutual support can be a significant benefit. For the best chance of getting pregnant, both you and your partner need to be in good health and so in general, the advice about not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping up some exercise applies equally to both partners.
What fertility help is available?
In the world of assisted reproduction, the help that is available in cases of low fertility, infertility and fertility preservation is advancing all the time. For example, for cancer patients due to undergo a treatment like radiotherapy or chemotherapy which can affect fertility, it is possible to freeze sperm to preserve fertility for the future.
For men with a low sperm count, where conception has not happened spontaneously, there are advanced IVF techniques such as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), allowing them to have their own child. The semen is provided in a sample generally or through a testicular biopsy if necessary, and embryologists select the best individual sperm, that it is then injected directly into the egg as part of the IVF process.
Getting in touch with IVI
For some couples, taking care of the preconception health of both partners is not a problem and they can look forward to the birth of their child. But for many others, help is needed to put them on course for their dream of becoming parents. If you would like to find out more about the help available, have a look at the various treatments and techniques for cases of low male fertility. You can get in touch with us at our London clinic by calling Freephone 0207 078 4868 or use our online contact form and we will get back to you.