When we talk about fertility, too often we default to thinking about how a woman's body shapes her reproductive life.
But it takes two to tango, and more researchers are finding that a man's health, age and lifestyle habits have a direct impact on his ability to make healthy babies.
In fact, in nearly 40% of cases, the man is the sole or a contributing cause of fertility challenges, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
A recent Georgetown University study found that a father's age and lifestyle (including his diet, fitness, drug and alcohol use, and even overall stress levels) affected the health of his future baby.
The study's author explains—
“We know the nutritional, hormonal and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response and gene expression in her offspring.... But our study shows the same thing to be true with fathers—his lifestyle, and how old he is, can be reflected in molecules that control gene function. In this way, a father can affect not only his immediate offspring but future generations as well."
Men: You matter
There's no reason to panic if you're well on your baby-making way. Here are five specific actions you can take to help in your conception journey.
1. Get a semen analysis
“When a couple is ready to conceive, one of the most important things they can do is have the male get his sperm tested," says urologist and male infertility specialist Dr. Natan Bar-Chama, director of the Center of Male Reproductive Health at RMA of New York. “This way, the couple can establish unequivocally whether or not the male has a normal semen analysis. A semen analysis is such a simple test to perform [...] and this test could make a huge difference. If there is any issue, then the couple would know from the beginning, instead of setting themselves up for disappointment if there was an undiagnosed male factor."
2. Kick unhealthy habits
Dr. Bar-Chama also suggests evaluating how healthy (or not) the hopeful dad's life currently is. He suggests dads:
—Quit smoking ASAP
—Eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke
—Quit any drug or steroid use
—Limit alcohol intake (although alcohol in moderation is okay)
—Check with their doctors to see if any medications they're taking might affect their fertility
—Avoid hot tubs or placing anything that gives off heat (e.g., laptops) on their laps
—Evaluate their weight. Dr. Bar-Chama explains, “Excessive weight gain and obesity affect both male and female hormones, but they affect testosterone specifically on the male side, which can affect sperm production and fertility." Be sure you're in as good of shape as possible when you start your conception journey.
3. Get tested if you're around toxic chemicals
Dr. Bar-Chama recommends getting blood work done regularly if you work with toxic chemicals. “People working with heavy metals or radiation should be closely monitored," he says. “There is testing that is routinely recommended to assess for exposure to these compounds, chemicals or radiation. If you or your partner works in an environment where one of you are at risk to exposure, be sure the work environment is adhering to the protocol to ensure yours or his safety."
4. Address underlying conditions
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that men address underlying health conditions like diabetes, cystic fibrosis, trauma, infection and treatment with chemotherapy or radiation.
5. Add superfoods + eliminate unhealthy foods
Add some or all of the following superfoods into your diet: pumpkin seeds, oranges, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, collard greens, kale, dark chocolate, salmon, sardines, pomegranate juice and Brazil nuts. And make sure you're staying hydrated at all times.
As you add some new foods to your diet, be conscious to take out the bad ones, too. Take a break from fried foods, full-fat dairy, processed meats and soda. And drink caffeine and alcohol only in moderation.
Papa, you've got this.
For a less reverent take on how men affect a couple's fertility, we love BuzzFeed's The Try Guys video on sperm testing. Things are about to get up close and very personal.