Once you and your partner have decided to try to conceive, the next important thing to do is go over the fundamentals. First and foremost, does the woman have a regular cycle? If not, then all the intricate dance steps required for fertilization and implantation can’t come together. If she does, great! Now it’s time to figure out the man’s part of the fertility equation.
There are specific ways men can be proactive about their conception journey. Here are 8 things you need to know about men + fertility:
1. Male infertility is more common than you think.
It’s important to recognize and appreciate men’s role in fertility. Twenty percent of couples trying to conceive will deal with male fertility challenges, and another 20% will have challenges for both men and women.
It’s such a simple thing to evaluate, and it’s awful to see couples suffer through infertility without exploring from the onset whether there’s a male factor in the equation.
5. Men should keep their sperm available when their partners are ovulating.
If a woman is ovulating, it takes time for the sperm to get to the egg. For example, if a woman is ovulating on day zero, typically four to five days before—either every other day, or on a daily basis—you want to start having sex. The man needs to have healthy sperm available at that time.
2. He might want to get his sperm tested.
A semen analysis is a simple test to perform, and if you’re anxious to have a baby and don’t want to waste any time, it could make a huge difference. If there’s an issue, you’ll know from the beginning instead of setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment in the event of an undiagnosed male factor.
Many couples skip this step, which leads us to #3...
8. A man’s age does matter.
Only very recently have we started to understand the effect of paternal age on fertility and the health of embryos and offspring. There is a spectrum—if a man is healthy and taking care of himself, his fertility likely isn’t as affected by age as someone who is at an unhealthy weight, isn’t active and is on many medications.
It does appear that as men age, the efficiency of sperm production diminishes and the genetics of the sperm change because of it, increasing the risk of genetic diseases. This happens around age 50 for men.
But it’s important to note that it’s not the same as a woman’s decline in fertility, which starts to happen around 36 or 37 years old.
Take control of your health + your journey. This is your family—start advocating for it now, even before conception.
7. If either of you works with toxic chemicals, be cautious.
People working with heavy metals or radiation should be closely monitored. There is testing that is routinely recommended to assess exposure to these compounds, chemicals or radiation. If either partner works in an environment where you’re at risk of exposure, talk with management to make sure the company is taking every precaution to guard your safety.
If you’re working with chemicals such as lead or heavy metals, be sure to have your blood tested regularly. These substances can hurt not only your fertility, but your overall health as well.
3. A semen analysis is easy to perform.
Your OB-GYN can prescribe a semen analysis, so be your own advocates—get tested so you know what you’re dealing with up front.
There’s a good chance the woman has closely monitored her cycle and has been using ovulation strips, and of course she’ll be carrying the child for 40 weeks and giving birth... so showing up to a doctor’s office to give a semen sample (or bringing one from home) is a very small effort in comparison.
If the analysis is normal, that’s great! If it’s abnormal, then the next step is to talk with a doctor about what might be causing the problem.
4. He should be healthy + make good choices.
Women’s health is not the only factor in fertility. Far from it, in fact. Men need to consider these factors:
—Smoking is bad for overall health and certainly for sperm quality. If you smoke, make quitting your #1 priority. Smokefree.gov is an excellent resource.
—You should both aim to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke as well.
—Excessive alcohol and/or drug use will hurt sperm production and quality. Alcohol in moderation is okay, which means two or fewer drinks per day.
—If you take prescription medication, over-the-counter medication or supplements, ask your doctor about whether they could affect fertility.
—Risky behaviors, previous steroid use and sexually transmitted diseases could also impair fertility.
—Excessive weight gain and obesity affect both male and female hormones, but they affect testosterone specifically for men, which can hurt sperm production and fertility.
6. Boxers or briefs? Doesn’t matter! But hot tubs do.
The briefs-hurt-fertility myth is one of the moe common ones out there, but it’s not substantiated by facts.
The reason the testes are outside the body is because it’s two degrees cooler than the normal body temperature. Therefore, avoid anything that can raise temperature, like hot tubs, when trying to conceive. Research isn’t quite conclusive as to whether placing a heat-emitting object (like a laptop) on your lap can hurt men’s fertility, but it’s best to avoid.