Women become pregnant, carry their babies and give birth, yet, their partner’s contribution is paramount and it starts way before there is even a pregnancy test in sight.
Men’s health and lifestyle has a huge impact on their fertility, affecting - for better or worse - their sexual desire and performance, as well as the quality and quantity of sperm they produce.
So, here are a few things for men to consider if they want to improve their chances when planning for a baby.
Keep them cool, keep them loose
Testicles hang from the body because they need to be kept cooler than the rest of your body for optimal sperm production and quality.
Therefore, as general health maintenance and, in particular, when looking at improving your fertility, anything that increases their temperature for prolonged periods of time should be avoided: hot baths, spas, resting a laptop on your lap and tight clothes like skinny jeans or tight underwear.
Prolonged cycling sessions may cut off blood circulation to the area and interfere with sperm production and the ability to sustain an erection. Although it is important to be aware of this and, perhaps, reduce your time in the saddle, you don’t need to give up cycling when planning for a baby. Adequately padded cycle wear and specialist saddles may be enough to keep everything as it should be.
So, when looking at improving your fertility, your best bet is to keep your testicles cool and loose by having cooler baths and showers, keeping the area away from direct heat, wearing loose-fitting pants like boxer shorts and favouring trousers that give your genitals plenty of room.
Ditch bad habits
Smoking reduces the number of sperm a man produces, as well as his sperm’s quality, motility (their ability to move) and ability to fertilize eggs. The genetic material (DNA) in the sperm – which will be part of your baby if a pregnancy occurs – may also be damaged by smoking.
If we also consider that getting and keeping erections can also be a problem for many smokers, we begin to understand why infertility rates in men who smoke are double those of non-smokers.
Yet, good news is that sperm becomes healthier as soon as a man stops smoking. And, because of their constant production and regeneration, a man’s sperm should be much healthier after just 3 months from quitting.
Second-hand smoke is very toxic and affects the health of all those who breathe it in, including your partner’s fertility. So, as long as you continue to smoke, make sure you only do so outside and well away from your front/back door.
Drinking alcohol to excess can reduce the quality of sperm as well as a man’s sex drive and ability to maintain an erection. Binge drinking is thought to be most detrimental to male fertility, with a maximum recommended weekly intake of 14 units of alcohol spread evenly over 3 or more days.
Testosterone, sperm quality and sex drive can also be affected by illegal drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and heroin; with anabolic steroids and some prescription drugs seriously affecting sperm production and motility.
If you feel you need support giving up any of these habits, or are unsure if the medication you’re on may affect your fertility, give your GP a call. There are also self-referral programmes and support groups you can access online.
Be mindful of your weight
Obesity in men is linked to lower sperm counts, poorer motility and erectile dysfunction. These are all thought to be related to the high levels of oestrogen caused by excess body fat, changes in testosterone and increased temperature of the testicles.
Practising moderate exercise regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet are key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Choose activities you enjoy and see your GP if you feel you may struggle with your diet.
You are what you eat
Foods that improve fertility in men are very similar to those foods that improve fertility for women. Like for women who are preparing to get pregnant, it is important to avoid pesticides as much as possible – favouring organic foods when possible and thoroughly scrubbing and peeling produce when not.
It is worth noting that heating or cooling food in plastic containers releases harmful chemicals like BPA bisphenol, which are known to damage sperm, into your food. Choose glass, ceramic or metal containers instead.
Lastly, research shows that eating a daily portion (75 grams) of walnuts improves sperm motility, vitality and health. So, get those walnuts out!
A man’s sexual performance and his ability to produce good numbers of quality sperm are closely related to their lifestyle choices. Just as important as it is for women to prepare their bodies for becoming pregnant, it is the same for men to prepare theirs to improve their fertility.