Trying to have a baby? Ovulation and female fertility are usually topics which come up most in conversation, but how much do you know about male fertility? And how can you boost your sperm count naturally if you’re trying to become a father?
It takes two to tango, two to ride a tandem bicycle, and two to make a baby – and there are no two ways about it. So if you are trying to conceive a baby with your partner, it is important to know as much as you can about your sperm count and about male fertility in general, as well as about female fertility and ovulation, of course.
For fertilization to occur, a man’s sperm must be as healthy and strong as possible to reach and, most importantly, to penetrate the woman's egg. A man must be able to have and keep an erection, have enough sperm that are the right shape and move in the right way, and have enough semen to carry the sperm to the egg.
A variety of factors can affect a man's fertility — from genetics and lifestyle to environmental exposures and hormones — so it's difficult to name the exact cause for infertility. However, there are many steps that men can take to enhance their health, lifestyle and relationship to increase a couple's chances of conceiving.
Factors affecting sperm health:
Sperm health depends on various factors, including quantity, movement and structure, and these factors can only be determined by a doctor or urologist.
Quantity: You're most likely to be fertile if your semen contains at least 15 million sperm per millilitre. Too little sperm in an ejaculation might make it more difficult to get pregnant because there is fewer sperm available to fertilize the egg.
Movement: To reach and fertilize an egg, sperm must wiggle and move through a woman's cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. This is known as motility. You're most likely to be fertile if at least 40% of your sperm are moving.
Structure: Normal sperm have oval heads and long tails, which work together to propel them. The more sperm you have with a normal shape and structure, the more likely you are to be fertile.
What causes male fertility problems?
Various medical issues can contribute to male fertility problems, including:
- A problem in the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland — parts of the brain that signal the testicles to produce testosterone and sperm (secondary hypogonadism)
- Testicular disease
- Sperm transport disorders
Age can also play a role. The ability of sperm to move and the proportion of normal sperm tend to decrease with age, affecting fertility.
Steps to increase chances of producing healthy sperm:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Some research suggests that increasing body mass index (BMI) is linked with decreasing sperm count and sperm movement
- Eat a healthy diet. Choose plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants — and might help improve sperm health
- Prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sexually transmitted infections — such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea — can cause infertility in men. To protect yourself, limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom each time you have sex — or stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn't infected
- Manage stress. Stress can decrease sexual function and interfere with the hormones needed to produce sperm
- Get moving. Moderate physical activity can increase levels of powerful antioxidant enzymes, which can help protect sperm.
What NOT to do?
Sperm can be especially vulnerable to environmental factors, such as exposure to excessive heat or toxic chemicals. To protect your fertility:
- Don't smoke. Men who smoke cigarettes are more likely to have low sperm counts. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit
- Limit alcohol. Heavy drinking can lead to reduced testosterone production, impotence and decreased sperm production. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation
- Avoid lubricants during sex. While further research is needed on the effects of lubricants on fertility, consider avoiding lubricants during intercourse. If necessary, consider using baby oil, canola oil, or a fertility-friendly lubricant
- Talk to your doctor about medications. Calcium channel blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-androgens and other medications can contribute to fertility issues. Anabolic steroids can have the same effect
- Watch out for toxins. Exposure to pesticides, lead and other toxins can affect sperm quantity and quality. If you must work with toxins, do so safely. For example, wear protective clothing and equipment, and avoid skin contact with chemicals
- Stay cool. Increased scrotal temperature can hamper sperm production. Although the benefits have not been fully proved, wearing loose-fitting underwear, reducing sitting, avoiding saunas and hot tubs, and limiting scrotum exposure to warm objects, such as a laptop, might enhance sperm quality.
Know when to seek help:
Adopting healthy lifestyle practices to promote your fertility — and avoiding things that can damage it — can improve your chances of conceiving. If you and your partner haven't gotten pregnant after a year of unprotected sex, however, you might consider being evaluated for infertility. A fertility specialist also might be able to identify the cause of the problem and provide treatments that place you and your partner on the road to parenthood.
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