It is easy for couples to focus solely on the woman’s health as they prepare for pregnancy; however, pre-conception health and infertility is just as important for men.
The average sperm count should be 15 million or more per ml according to the World Health Organisation guidelines. Low sperm count and motility may be caused by a series of lifestyle factors and could affect a man’s chances of conceiving. There are several habits men need to be forming during these critical months of preparation. These include increasing water intake, eating food rich in antioxidants also folic acid, and avoiding hot baths and tight pants as heat is damaging to sperm.
It is important for couples to remember that baby making is a team project so there’s absolutely no reason why your partner shouldn’t join you in eating better food, exercising more and doing things he enjoys to relieve stress, all of which will improve the health of his sperm and fertility.
For further reading we found a great article by Phillipa Kaye, author of the Fertility Handbook, that sums up the:
10 THINGS EVERY MAN CAN DO TO IMPROVE FERTILITY
Most men don’t even think about it until they want kids. But, says Philippa Kaye, author of the Fertility Handbook, we can’t take reproduction for granted.
One in six couples have fertility problems and rates appear to be rising. Why?
A large study in Scotland found that the average sperm count has fallen over recent years, but it is not clear whether this translates into a lower birth rate. Other possible causes could include environmental pollutants, the effects of medication or the tendency for couples to be older when starting a family.
Infertility affects 1 in 20 men (5%). But 20% of men have low sperm count and 2-3% produce no sperm at all. A low sperm count is the cause of infertility in about 20% of couples.
Should you be concerned?
If you have not conceived after one year of unprotected sex then you and your partner should visit your doctor. It is reasonable to go sooner if you have a reason to be concerned about your fertility, such as previous groin surgery or chemotherapy.
There are some simple lifestyle changes that every man can make to boost his fertility and increase the chances of conception.
Aim to have sex every other day
If you ejaculate very regularly (say, daily), the testes cannot keep up sperm production fast enough, so fewer sperm are in the semen. It is also not advisable to ‘store’ up the sperm, as this can result in lower numbers of active, healthy sperm in the semen.
Maintain a healthy weight and improve your diet
Being overweight can affect your sperm and increases the risk of developing blood-flow problems that may affect your erections. Even if you are of a healthy weight you should still eat a broad, healthy diet – high in fruit and vegetables and low in fat. Aim to drink at least six to eight glasses of liquid a day. The Department of Health currently does not recommend taking any supplements to improve fertility, though some people recommend taking zinc or vitamin E. (Consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet or exercise..)
Regular exercise may help fertility by controlling body weight and relieving stress.
Watch what you drink
Drinking up to the Department of Health recommended limit of 21 units per week for men has not been shown to affect fertility. [Note: In January 2016, the DH lowered its recommended limit for men to 14 units per week.] However, drinking excessively can adversely affect sperm quantity and quality.
Smoking affects sperm counts but it is not known what effect this has on male fertility. However, stopping smoking will improve your general health and your life expectancy.
Check your medication
Ask your GP about the effects on fertility and sexual function of any medicines. Fertility can be affected by various medications, for example those for high blood pressure or depression.
Avoid recreational drugs
Cannabis can affect sperm quality and quantity. (If you want to get off recreational drugs, look for a support network. Your GP may be able to help.)
Don’t cramp your style
Sitting for long periods of time, or regular hot baths can raise the temperature in the testicles reducing sperm production. However, contrary to popular belief wearing tight underwear does not affect sperm production. (A study comparing men wearing tight briefs with men wearing loose boxers showed no difference in sperm counts.)
Consider your job
Certain jobs can affect fertility, for example the pesticides used by agricultural workers or even the vibrations felt by engine drivers. If you are concerned that your job may be affecting your fertility ask your GP.
Stress, be it physical or emotional has wide-ranging effects on the body. It is well known to affect erectile function and may well affect fertility. Over 80% of couples conceive after one year and over 90% of couples conceive after two years of unprotected sex. Set aside time for you and your partner to relax. Enjoy yourselves.
Philippa Kaye works in general practice in North London. She is the author of ‘The Fertility Handbook’ by Sheldon Press.
If you have any concerns regarding your fertility, contact your GP.
This Men’s Health Forum article was originally published in 2007 and was updated in January 2016