Men - is your body ready to make a baby?
When trying to conceive, much of the attention is the woman, but your health and fertility is half of the conception equation. Here's what you should know as a would-be dad...
If you're thinking of having a baby with your partner and you've no reason to suspect anything is wrong with your fertility, then you may think that your role in conceiving is simply down to enjoying regular sex. But while much of the focus is usually on the woman's fertility and health leading up to conception and during pregnancy, the quality of your sperm is responsible for 50% of your future baby's genetic make-up. This makes the quality of your sperm every bit as important as the egg in determining a successful conception and pregnancy, and even in providing the fundamental building blocks of your baby's long-term health. In fact, there's compelling recent research to show that toxins present in the man's sperm can create long-term health problems for their babies.
How do toxins reach your sperm?
Your health and diet in the months leading up to conception directly affects the quality of your sperm. It takes about 74 days for sperm to develop and mature ready for ejaculation, during which time pollutants in your body can impair the development of healthy sperm. And these hazards for healthy sperm are common - smoking, alcohol and stress, for example, all decrease the quantity and/or quality of sperm ejaculated.
The good news is that this regular renewal of sperm gives you an opportunity to take steps to improve your lifestyle that can quickly have a positive impact on the sperm you produce. So even if you don't have the healthiest lifestyle now, with a bit of effort you can get yourself in better shape for conception in just three months.
Men's checklist for a healthy conception
- Improve your diet. In a nutshell, up the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables you eat and decrease the amount of salty, sugary, processed foods. Cook veg lightly (try steaming) to keep in the vitamins and slash your intake of sugary drinks and caffeine. The more foods you eat as close to their natural state as possible, the better. Here are some specific ideas on how to improve your diet for conception.
- Watch your weight. A BMI (body mass index) that's above 25 or under 20 can reduce your sperm count, so it's worth trying to keep your weight within the healthy bracket if you can.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a toxin that depletes your body's supply of zinc and can affect the quality and quantity of your sperm. Very heavy drinking may lead to impotence. If you know you drink more than you should then try to cut back to light drinking. The less alcohol you drink in the run-up to trying for a baby, the better.
- Stop smoking. Numerous studies have shown that smoking significantly impairs sperm quality.
- Steer clear of drugs. Marijuana, opiates and anabolic steroids all affect your hormone production and so can reduce fertility. Some prescribed drugs may also affect your fertility so it's worth speaking to your doctor if you are on any regular medication to find out how it may affect your fertility and what the other options may be.
- Avoid environmental toxins. You don't have to put a toxin into your mouth for it to affect your sperm. Many environmental toxins, including pesticides, phthalates, phyto-oestrogens, chemical detergents and some hair-loss treatments have been linked to abnormal sperm. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about any exposure you may have.
- Avoid stress. Some studies have shown that stress can affect your hormone levels in your body and so affect fertility. If you're aware of being under stresses and strains it's a good idea to try and reduce these as much as you can and take regular time out specifically for activities that you enjoy and which you find relaxing.
- Get regular exercise. As well as helping you stay at a healthy weight, regular exercise is an all-round physical and mental health improver that will help get you in good shape for conception. We're not talking about going from coach potato to iron-man, but rather getting in three or four sessions of moderate exercise a week, doing whatever you enjoy most. As a knock-on affect getting fitter will give you more energy, stamina and should increase your libido too, so leading to more, and better quality, sex with your partner.
- Be nutrient alert. Most people trying to conceive will have heard that daily folic acid intake is important for women, but it's also one of the important nutrients for male fertility. Try to make sure you get plenty of the following nutrients in your diet: folic acid, zinc, vitamins C and E and selenium. You might also want to consider taking a daily supplement.
Don't worry if your partner doesn't fall pregnant straight away, it's common for it to take at least a few months to conceive, no matter how fertile you are. Find out more about how long it takes to conceive.
If you and your partner do have problems conceiving then don't assume that the difficulty lies with your partner. It's just as likely that there's a problem with your sperm, or a combination of difficulties on both sides, and it may make sense for you to have a sperm test in the early stages of investigations into fertility problems. But you've no need to worry about any of that until you've been trying without success for at least 12 months (or about six months if your partner is over 35).