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What every man (and woman) should know about conception

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From avoiding wearing tight pants to having intercourse every day, there are many myths and misconceptions about what men can do to improve their fertility. So if you’re trying for a baby now, or planning a family in the future, you should know the facts about how the male reproductive system works and your chances of conception.

Continuous production of sperm
Unlike women who are born with all of the eggs they’ll ever have, men continue to produce sperm throughout their lifetime.

Sperm production starts in the testes, where the hormone testosterone is produced. An average of 100 million sperm is produced every day in healthy young men, with an average of 50 million sperm produced per ejaculate. The entire process of sperm production and maturation takes just under three months.

Even in a healthy fertile man sperm count fluctuates all the time – it can vary from 10 million per ml to 80million per ml. Because of this continuous production of sperm, if a major disruption to a man’s health occurs, such as a serious illness, it could have a negative impact on sperm quality. This is why we generally repeat a semen analysis test after three months to confirm the result. Some men who return abnormal results in their first semen analysis test will actually return a normal result when they are tested again.

Enjoy your sex life
Some couples worry that having sex every day will reduce the man’s sperm count, or they focus on only having sex when the woman is ovulating. In fact, this can often throw conception off track as its common to miss the fertile window if sex is limited to only when you think you’re ovulating.

The best time to conceive is generally during the 11th to the 17th day of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Sperm can survive in a woman’s fallopian tubes for 48-72 hours. Most fertility specialists will recommend intercourse every two to three days during this period. With this is mind, it’s best to enjoy your sex life together and have sex as often as you like, paying special attention to the few days before ovulation.

Your health and lifestyle matters too
Reduce alcohol intake

While moderate alcohol consumption is not proven to have any effect on sperm quality, the long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption could include erectile dysfunction, reduced libido and subnormal sperm production. As with many things in life, moderation is the key.

Quit smoking

Various studies suggest that smoking worsens sperm production, motility (ability to swim) and morphology (shape). If you’re a smoker making every effort to quit is a good idea for your health and fertility. Smoking has been shown to increase the chance of cancer in your future children, so next time you light up – think of the children!

Avoid recreational drugs & steroids

Some drugs, such as marijuana can decrease sperm density and motility, and increase the number of abnormal sperm. Cocaine can impair erectile function by suppressing the hormone that produces testosterone, causing impotence. If you’re a recreational user, stop!

Ensure you’re a healthy weight

A low or high Body Mass Index (BMI) can affect sperm concentration and count. Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy BMI is important. If you’re overweight, try to reduce the weight as obesity may be linked with infertility.

Reduce exposure to extreme heat

The testicles produce the best quality sperm when they are a few degrees below normal body temperature. Working in hot temperatures, or simply relaxing in a hot bath or sauna frequently, can increase testicular temperature – resulting in abnormal sperm count and quality. It’s best to avoid taking long hot baths on a regular basis!  Where possible, avoid exposing the testicles to high temperatures on a regular basis.

As doctors, we encourage men and women to do what they can to maintain a healthy lifestyle, for their own benefit and that of their current and future children.

Your age can matter, but not to the same extent

The persistence of this idea is probably in part due to those frequent stories about older celebrity dads. Obviously there are plenty of men who parent children in their 60s – and even older; but that’s not to say that male fertility isn’t affected by age. Studies show that there’s a decline in a man’s fertility levels, particularly the quality of the sperm, once he reaches 40.

When should we seek medical advice?
It’s equally important for the male partner as it is the female partner to have a medical check as part of preconception planning. There may be medical history in your family or other conditions, such as a serious illness, which can affect your fertility.

The most important step in checking male fertility is a semen analysis, a simple and straightforward test which is critical in understanding any underlying cause to why a couple may be having trouble conceiving.

If you and your partner have been trying to conceive for a year without any success, we recommend you seek advice from your GP or a fertility specialist.

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