If you have been trying to conceive for more than a year without success (or six months if you are over 35) it may be time to get a few his 'n' her fertility tests done.
In about a third of cases of infertility, there will be a problem with the male partner.
Some experts have suggested that male infertility is on the increase. This may be to do with the age people are choosing to start a family, or it may be to do with environmental factors (or both).
Male fertility begins to decline when men hit their 40s, but it doesn't shut down altogether as it does with women.
Male fertility tests
Male fertility is tested by analysing a sample of sperm, and possibly blood, to look at hormone levels. The two main tests are to assess the health and motility of the sperm, and the sperm count.
The results show whether there are actual functional sperm present and in the right quantity.
Infertility will be present if:
- There is a low or non-existent sperm count
- The motility of the sperm is decreased, as the sperm will not be able to effectively swim to meet the egg
- The sperm are abnormal (shaped differently to regular sperm eg with wonky tails, two heads, no tail, tiny heads etc).
This may be caused by damage to the testicles because of disease, trauma or a congenital defect.
Other potential problems with male fertility
- A blockage, so that sperm cannot be released from the body during ejaculation
- Ejaculation problem eg retrograde ejaculation, where semen is ejaculated into the bladder
- Low levels of testosterone, which inhibits sperm production
- Sperm allergy, where the body treats its own sperm as a foreign invader and produces antibodies
There are a number of different treatments for the causes of male infertility, all with varying success rates. Your GP will be able to talk through the different options.
Diet and lifestyle changes that may improve male fertility
- Cut down on the amount of alcohol you imbibe, as there is an association between booze and infertility. NICE recommends a limit of three to four units a day.
- Stop smoking as it can affect your sperm count.
- Don't luxuriate in hot baths, as heat can affect sperm production. Keep the water temperature warm, or have a shower instead.
- For the same reason, swap tight-fitting Y-fronts for loose-fitting boxers.
- Cut down on cycling and horse riding - they can both affect sperm production.
- Certain chemicals, such as pesticides, can affect fertility, so avoid handling them.
- Cut down your caffeine intake.
- Don't take recreational drugs and check to see if any medication you are taking can interfere with fertility.
- Get checked for sexually transmitted infections and get them treated if you have them.
- Try to maintain a healthy weight, as excess weight can have an impact on your fertility. Do plenty of exercise and eat sensibly.
- Have a healthy diet with a good variety of fresh foods.
- Get enough folic acid. Foods rich in folates include orange juice, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables and fortified cereals.
- Try to eat foods rich in zinc, such as lamb, nuts, seeds, oysters, beef and baked beans, or take a supplement.
- Eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, such as fresh fruit.
- Calcium and vitamin D are also important for fertility, so don't scrimp on dairy products.
- Get enought selenium by taking supplements or eating Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds, eggs and mushrooms.
- Drink plenty of water. It's needed for sperm production.
What Mumsnetters say about male infertility
- Male fertility does decline slightly with age, but it's not a sharp decline like in women. However, it is significantly impaired through smoking, heavy drinking, obesity and poor diet. I would suggest trying to improve those aspects if you're having trouble conceiving. vitaminC
- My husband had 3% morphology (ie normally formed sperm) and cut down booze, caffeine and took Wellman supplements, pine bark and extra vitamin C. Eight weeks later it was 7%. It does change. Whereismywine