It’s 2022, yet here we are, living in a world where the idea of preconception care and fertility is still centered around women. From healthcare providers to earnest articles on the internet, whenever the conversation involves infertility or pregnancy or childbirth, the focus remains largely on the female. That’s interesting, considering the influence paternal involvement has on pregnancy outcomes. And when you consider that roughly 10% of all U.S. males attempting to become fathers are dealing with infertility, it’s more than interesting — it’s downright bewildering. But knowledge is power, so let’s buck the trend and spill the tea on male infertility.
Surprise — it’s not just a woman’s problem
Way back in 2015, infertility was considered a serious clinical issue, with worldwide stats finding that between 8 and 12% of all couples were affected. At that time, between 40 and 50% of all infertility cases were the result of male factor infertility.
You’d think those are big enough numbers for people to pay attention, but it’s still common for couples who are struggling to conceive to overlook the entire male half of the equation. Still, it doesn’t have to be that way. A simple sperm analysis can tell you just about everything you need to know about a guy’s fertility.
Sperm issues are the most common culprit
There are a few reasons for male infertility, but sperm issues tend to be the most common. Problematic sperm is, well, problematic, because the preconception health of both parents can have a direct influence on a pregnancy and the baby’s health, including brain development and birth weight. And that’s if it doesn’t affect a man’s ability to successfully impregnate his partner to begin with.
Some ten years ago, a study found that just one man in four had what was considered optimal sperm quality, which is itself measured in a few ways:
- Sperm count. Between 15 and 200 million sperm is considered the normal range in a single milliliter of semen. Anything below the 15 million mark per milliliter falls into the low sperm count range. And since pregnancy is a numbers game, the more sperm you have, the better.
- Sperm motility. Motility describes movement patterns, and sperm fall into three general movement groups. Some sperm swim in straight lines or big circles. Others swim in all directions but forward. And then, you have the sperm that don’t move at all. If 40% of a man’s sperm is motile — in any direction — he’s considered fertile.
- Sperm morphology. This is the shape and structure of the sperm. Normal sperm are like tadpoles, with their oval heads and long tails. But some sperm are pretty funky, with two heads, weird tails, or missing parts. And in news that will surprise no one, sperm with poor morphology are associated with lower fertility rates.
Sperm deficiencies can often be linked to a lack of nutrients
The most common reason for sperm deficiencies, whether it’s count or motility or morphology, is a lack of key nutrients. That’s pretty fantastic news. If you can point to a nutrient-void diet in a man who’s struggling to conceive with his partner, you can take immediate steps to flip the script. Proper prenatal nutrition and supplementing — which is where a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin comes in — is tied to higher-quality sperm and fewer DNA abnormalities.
And it’s easy! Eat a better diet, swap the daily multivitamin for a men’s prenatal that’s formulated for fertility, and see if things don’t improve.
Men have a biological clock, too
Women may be consistently portrayed as haunted by the tick-tick-tick of their biological clock, but men aren’t immune. While it’s true that men generally produce sperm literally until their dying day, the quality of that sperm declines significantly the older they get. That means a greater likelihood of men passing on genetic mutations and, after about age 40, a higher chance of experiencing infertility issues.
Lifestyle choices can have a surprisingly big impact
We’ve already established that sperm quality is a key player in male fertility. But there’s more. A man’s overall health is often an indication of his sperm health. Specifically, low-quality sperm is often just one of a handful of health issues, most commonly related to hormones, circulatory problems, or skin conditions. That means a guy with a lot of bad habits beyond a crummy diet — think too much beer, not enough sleep, too much stress, not enough exercise, recreational drug use, smoking — could be unintentionally torpedoing the quantity and quality of his little swimmers.
But remember — this relationship can actually work to your advantage. Clean up your lifestyle, and you can often overcome the negative effects of all those risk factors.
The bottom line
Let’s go back to Bio 101 for a minute. Some people make it look unbelievably easy, but conception is a complex process. So many things need to go right to successfully conceive, and there are a lot of moving parts. If anything goes sideways, guess what? You’re potentially dealing with infertility. It’s true for both women and men, and the sooner we fully include men in the infertility conversation, the faster we can address any fixable issues stemming from his side of the equation. Bottom line? For a healthy conception, pregnancy, and baby, fully-functioning sperm is key.