Often when couples are having difficulty conceiving we look to a woman’s fertility, but male infertility actually affects around a third of all infertile couples. Fortunately, most causes are easily diagnosed and most can be treated or overcome to help a couple conceive.
If you are trying to conceive you generally have a 20% chance of becoming pregnant each month. Some couples become pregnant quickly whereas others take some time. It is important to remember that around 85-90% of couples will become pregnant within a year of trying – so stay positive!
It is recommended to see a doctor or fertility specialist if you are under 35 years of age and have not fallen pregnant within 12 months of unprotected sex. If you are over 35 I recommend seeing a doctor if you have not fallen pregnant within six months of trying. However you can absolutely see a fertility specialist sooner if you would like.
The great news is sperm have a lifecycle of around 72 days. This means that if there are any issues with your sperm you may be able to improve this with diet and lifestyle changes in just a few short months.
How is fertility tested?
There are a number of simple tests that can be undertaken to asses fertility in both men and women. For women, fertility tests typically include some blood tests and ultrasounds to check for ovulation, specific fertility conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis, and ovarian reserves. Sometimes more invasive testing is required. The key fertility test for men is a semen analysis which measures the health of the sperm in a sample.
What are the most common causes of male infertility?
There are many causes of male infertility. The most common causes are lifestyle factors, ejaculation difficulties, problems with sperm production, movement or shape, hormonal concerns or chromosomal and DNA abnormalities.
How can men improve their fertility?
• Eat a healthy diet with adequate iron and zinc. A diet rich in seafood, poultry, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables is a great place to start! Foods rich in antioxidants may also help so I recommend to include things like berries, pumpkin seeds and colourful leafy vegetables in your regular diet.
• Maintain a health weight in the normal BMI range. Being overweight can impact the quality and quantity of sperm.
• Exercise regularly - sperm quality can be reduced in men who are sedentary. Exercise can also help you to maintain a healthy body weight.
• Have sex regularly – at least 2-3 times per week so that sperm is not stored in the testicles for too long.
• Having sex around the time that your partner is ovulating can increase your chance of conceiving dramatically. Most women ovulate 10-16 days after the first day of their last period, so this is the ideal time to have sex.
• Stop smoking, recreational drug and steroid use as these all have known adverse effects on sperm quality and male fertility.
• Limit alcohol intake – binge drinking may impact your fertility.
• Discuss your medical history and current medications with your GP or fertility specialist as there are certain medications and medical conditions that can interfere with fertility.
Where to get help?
Your GP or a fertility specialist can be a great first step. Many men and couples may feel embarrassed about seeking support, but you don’t need to be worried. Infertility is more common than most people realise. Treatment can be very successful and can often assist you in conceiving - either with lifestyle advice, natural treatments or medical options such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
Your doctor can refer you for a semen analysis test to provide you with further insight. This is generally quite a simple test but can give some good insights into your fertility.
There are treatments available that can allow you to still conceive if you have a low sperm count, large numbers of abnormally shaped sperm or low sperm motility. This is best discussed with your fertility specialty.
The journey to becoming parents is not always easy, but with some simple lifestyle changes and the right support from your healthcare team you will be in the best position to achieve your dreams of having a family.
Article written by PBC Expo Midwife Hannah