Fertility: it's not just a female thing

Getting pregnant isn’t just women’s business: it’s a matter for both men and women.

Being fertile and ready to conceive is as much a man’s responsibility as it is a woman’s. She might carry the baby, but making it takes two, so getting your body ready is equally as important for future dads.

In Australia, around one in six couples trying to conceive have difficulties, and that’s not always due to the female partner. Statistics show around one in 20 Australian men over the age of 40 have a problem with the quality or quantity of their sperm.

There are many reasons why a man’s sperm quality and quantity may be low, including environmental and genetic factors, but lifestyle has a part to play. So let’s take a look at how men can help improve their fertility.

Stop smoking

Smoking has a negative effect on sperm, and can lead to infertility. Heavy smokers may produce up to 20% less sperm than non-smokers. A recent study found that males who are infertile were more likely to be smokers than not. Men who stopped smoking saw a distinct improvement in their sperm quality after only three months. So talk to your doctor about ways to kick the habit.

Cut out alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption has long been associated with fertility problems, and there is evidence to suggest that the more you drink, the less able you will be to produce healthy, fertile sperm. Research shows that infertility is more common in men who drink than those who don't, so it's wise to cut out or reduce alcohol as soon as you start planning your family.  

Drinking alcohol can lower testosterone levels, cause erectile dysfunction and decrease sperm production. Liver disease caused by excessive drinking may also lead to fertility problems. Men are recommended to drink drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day and no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion. 

Drug use

man rolling a cigarette
Anabolic steroids taken to stimulate muscle strength and growth can cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to decrease. Use of cocaine or marijuana may temporarily reduce the number and quality of your sperm as well.

Limit caffeine

Caffeine isn’t good for fertility, and based on evidence of its effects on female reproduction, it might be a good idea to cut back your consumption to one or two cups of coffee per day.

Manage stress

Studies show psychological stress can lower sperm count and sperm motility (ability to swim forward), as well as increase the proportion of abnormal sperm.

Stress can make conceiving a child more difficult, and it’s not likely to put you ‘in the mood’. Similarly, performance anxiety, the scrutiny of your sex life and your partner’s emotions are bound to affect your confidence, which can have an impact on fertility.

Protect yourself from heat

Sperm production happens in the testes that hang outside the body, below normal body temperature. Increasing that temperature by sitting in a hot bath or spa may reduce the quality of your sperm.

Sitting for long periods, wearing tight clothing or working on a laptop computer for long stretches of time also may increase the temperature in your scrotum and slightly reduce sperm production. The type of underwear you wear is unlikely to make a significant difference in male fertility. The process of sperm production and maturation takes just under three months, so any damage done by heat exposure is reversible.
Man with computer on his lap

Get fit and maintain a healthy weight

Being over or under weight can affect male fertility, so it’s crucial to keep your weight in a healthy range with a normal BMI (body mass index) if you want to increase your chances of getting pregnant. 

It’s recommend men do 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most (preferably all) days of the week, including vigorous activity where possible. 

Nourish your body

To give your body optimal opportunity to produce healthy, strong sperm, you have to feed it the right foods. To help you get the nutrients and fibre your body needs, eat a wide variety of nutritious food each day.

There is some evidence that antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A, C and E, selenium and zinc can help improve sperm quality, although their overall effect on fertility is not clear.

Coloured vegetables are particularly rich in antioxidants, and fruits such as grapes, oranges, plums, pineapple, dates, kiwifruit, mandarins. Selenium and zinc are also found in whole grain breads and cereals, red meat, fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds, garlic and sea food. 

Also consider taking a daily multivitamin supplement to ensure you get the right volume and variety of vitamins for fertility. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if this is suitable for you. 

Think about the preconception period as getting into training, and focus on the long game. It’ll be worth it when you hold your baby in your arms. If you and your partner are experiencing pregnancy delay, the most common causes of male infertility are easily diagnosed and overcome with effective fertility assessments and treatments. 
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