When planning for parenthood, it is sometimes too easy to focus solely on a woman’s health and her ability to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy.
Male partners are often excluded from conversations about fertility, with common myths about infertility being a “woman’s issue” leading to many men finding it very difficult to open up about their fertility problems.
In recent years, there’s been a positive shift within our society towards raising awareness about male infertility and the damage it can have on the mental and emotional health of men. Did you know there is plenty that men can do to maximise their potential to conceive, which can make a big difference when preparing to have a child?
In this article, we’ll take a look at preconception health for men. We’ll cover a few simple dos and don’ts, as well as offer some fertility-boosting tips for men and answer frequently asked questions about protecting the quality and quantity of sperm. We’ll also look at the impact of lifestyle choices, and where to get help if low fertility, or even infertility, becomes an issue.
Why does preconception health matter for men?
Did you know that men face fertility problems just as often as women? At IVI, we estimate that, out of all the couples who seek our help when struggling to conceive, 30% are experiencing issues relating to male fertility. This is equal to the number of couples experiencing issues relating to female fertility (30%). The other 40% experience problems due to a combination of both partners, or unknown causes. It’s clear from these statistics that the male fertility, including men’s preconception health is every bit as important as that of women. The only difference is that a woman’s reproductive health may affect the pregnancy, while the part played by the sperm is more time-limited. Both are equally crucial.
Aside from a few specific medical conditions, it is most commonly the quality and quantity of the sperm that have the biggest impact on male fertility. The quantity of sperm is defined as low when there are fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen. A low sperm count can make conception more difficult. The quality of sperm is also important: decreased sperm mobility (the ability to move efficiently) or abnormal morphology (size and shape) can make it more difficult for the sperm to reach the egg in order for fertilisation to take place.
What are the do’s 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. These may be low-level risks like spending too long in a stuffy office or driving for long periods, or there can be other more obvious occupational hazards, for example being exposed to agents like pesticides, fertilisers, petrochemicals and radiation, which 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. Being overweight can also lead to diabetes, which can have a serious impact on fertility, for example through erectile dysfunction and a reduction in sperm quality.
- Smoke. 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 have impact fertility. Consult your GP for advice and possible alternatives.
- Drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Alcohol can decrease sperm quality. If you’re trying to conceive, it is best to moderate your alcohol intake. If you’re in doubt, stick to the NHS guidance on alcohol intake which recommends drinking less than 14 units each week.
What are the differences in preconception health for men and women?
The preconception period is 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, keeping a healthy weight and regularly exercising applies equally to both partners.
Likewise, it is important for both partners to have sexual health check-up to make sure there are no sexually-transmitted infections present which could affect your ability to conceive.
What can I do if I need help?
In the world of assisted reproduction, there is lots of help available for men who experience low fertility (also known as subfertility) or infertility, and techniques are advancing all the time. For example, for those facing infertility for medical reasons such as cancer patients undergoing a treatment like radiotherapy or chemotherapy, it is now very possible to freeze sperm and still be able to have a child in the future.
For men with a low sperm count who may be struggling to conceive spontaneously, there are advanced IVF procedures such as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which significantly increase the chances of conception and, in some cases, make possible what otherwise would have been impossible. During an ICSI procedure, embryologists select the best individual sperm from a semen sample and this sperm is then injected directly into the egg as part of the IVF process, facilitating fertilisation.
Getting in touch with IVI
For many couples, a bit of extra help is needed to help them achieve their dream of becoming parents. If you would like to find out more about the help available, you can look at the range of treatments and services offered in cases of low male fertility.
You can get in touch with us at our London clinic by calling 0800 52 00 161 or submit your details through our online contact form to request more information. A member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.