Men, fertility and planning a pregnancy

It takes two to make a baby. There are lots of things you can do as a future father to help your partner have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

As women are the ones who get pregnant there is a lot of attention on their health and wellbeing. But when a couple are planning a pregnancy, it’s important that men are healthy too.

Improving your health can improve your fertility (ability to get pregnant) and the future health of your child.

Top tips for planning a pregnancy for men

Smoking and fertility

Smoking can cause fertility problems in men. It can:

  • reduce the quality of sperm
  • cause a lower sperm count
  • affect the sperm’s ability to swim (motility)
  • cause male sexual impotence (inability to get or maintain an erection).

The good news is that stopping smoking can reverse the damage.

To get support to quit smoking sign up for the NHS Smoke-free emails or download the Smoke Free Baby app.

Passive smoking

Secondhand smoke is highly toxic. Most of it is invisible and doesn’t smell. If you smoke and your partner does not, you need to be aware that secondhand smoke (also known as passive smoking) can affect their fertility and health.

Breathing in the smoke from your cigarettes can damage their ability to get pregnant. Opening windows and doors or smoking in another room will not make it safe.

Find out more about the risks of secondhand smoke.

Helping your partner to quit

If your partner smokes, support her to quit. Smoking can cause serious complications in pregnancy and increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

If you smoke too, she is less likely to quit.

Smokers who get support from family and friends are more likely to stop. Try and quit smoking together. There is lots of support to help you.

Alcohol and fertility

Drinking too much can affect your fertility.

Regularly drinking alcohol above recommended levels can cause problems with fertility for men and women.

The recommended limit is 14 units of alcohol per week. People who drink as much as 14 units per week should spread this evenly over 3 days or more.

In men, drinking too much alcohol can cause:

  • loss of interest in sex
  • reduced testosterone levels
  • low sperm quality and quantity.

The good news is these effects can be reversed if you stop drinking too much.

Doctors have agreed that the safest thing for women to do is not drink any alcohol at all if they’re are actively trying for a baby. Many men support their partner by cutting down or avoiding alcohol too when they are getting pregnant and afterwards.

Weight and fertility

Having an overweight or obese BMI can affect the quality and quantity of your sperm, which can contribute to fertility problems. Your weight may also have an effect on your child’s DNA, making them more likely to have a high BMI themselves.

Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy. 

For most adults, a BMI of:

  • less than18.5 = underweight
  • 18.5 to 24.9 = healthy weight
  • 25 to 29.9 = overweight
  • 30 to 39.9 = obese
  • 40 or more =severely obese

You can calculate your BMI here

The best way to get closer to a healthy BMI is to eat a healthy diet and become physically active.

Nutrition and fertility

In planning a pregnancy, men can also improve their fertility by looking at their diet. Research has shown that sperm quality is affected by diet. The foods that have a positive effect on fertility are very similar to those shown to have a positive effect for women’s fertility.

  • Diets high in processed meat, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, saturated fatty acids and trans fats were linked to low quality semen.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish were linked to better semen quality.

Eating a portion of walnuts a day has been shown to have a help sperm motility (ability to swim).

STIs and fertility

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex (sex without using contraception, such as a condom) or genital contact.

Common symptoms of an STI include:

  • unusual discharge from the penis or anus
  • a rash
  • itchiness, lumps, skin growths, blisters or sores around the genitals or anus
  • pain when urinating.

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are two of the most common STIs in the UK. Both can be cured with antibiotics but lead to infertility in men and women if they are not treated.

The risk of infertility is lower in both conditions if they are treated early. The more times you have gonorrhoea, the more likely you are to have complications.

Many people with chlamydia and gonorrhoea don’t experience any symptoms at all.

However, most STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms that you may not realise are caused by an infection.

This means that many people who have an STI will not know they are infected and will pass it on to any sexual partners.

If you have any reason to believe you may have an STI, talk to your partner as some STIs affect a developing baby. Treatment can prevent this.

Getting tested

The best places to go are a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic, sexual health clinic, your GP or a young people’s clinic.

All information given will be kept confidential, and the tests are only done with your permission.

You can find details of local GUM clinics on the NHS Choices website, by contacting the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 or on the Family Planning Association’s website

Sperm temperature

The testicles (balls) are outside the body instead if inside because they need to be kept slightly cooler than the rest of you to produce high quality sperm. The best temperature for sperm is slightly below body temperature.

If you're planning a pregnancy, you may want to try to avoid overheating your testicles. For example,

  • don’t have a warm laptop on your lap for long periods
  • avoid saunas or hot baths
  • if you sit still for long periods, get up and move around regularly
  • if you work in a hot environment, like a kitchen or a bakery take regular breaks outside.

Wearing tight underwear or tight trousers makes your testicles hotter as it pushes them closer to the body. Although tight underwear hasn’t been shown in research to affect sperm quality, you may want to wear loose-fitting underwear and trousers, such as boxer shorts instead.

Stress

Stress can affect your relationship and lower your or your partner’s sex drive. This may reduce how often you have sex. Severe and ongoing stress can also limit sperm production.

Trying to conceive a baby can be stressful, especially if you have been trying for a while. It’s important that you and your partner take time to relax. You may find these stress relief tips helpful if you are finding that it is becoming harmful to your relationship. 

Caffeine

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some soft drinks and energy drinks.

High levels of caffeine during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight. There is also some medical evidence that men consuming too much caffeine while you trying to conceive can increase the risk of miscarriage. The evidence suggests that this applies to both women and men.

If you’re planning to conceive, you and your partner may find it helpful to get into the habit of limiting your caffeine intake to 200mg a day. This is around two mugs of instant coffee a day or one mug of filter coffee. Calculate your caffeine intake here.

Sickle cell and thalassaemia

Sickle cell disease (SCD) and thalassaemia are blood disorders you inherit through your family. If you are a carrier of sickle cell or thalassaemia, you can pass these conditions on to your baby.

These conditions affect haemoglobin, a part of the blood that carries oxygen around the body. People who have these conditions will need specialist care throughout their lives.

It is important to know whether your baby is at risk because babies with sickle cell disease can receive early treatment, including immunisations and antibiotics.

This, along with support from their parents, will help prevent serious illness and allow the child to live a healthier life.

Find out more here about sickle cell and thalassaemia.

When to get help with fertility

It usually takes several months to conceive so if you’ve been trying for a baby for about a year (or 6 months if your partner is 35 or over) without success then it’s probably a good time to see your GP, either with your partner or separately.

If you find that either of you are becoming stressed because you haven’t conceived yet, then make an appointment sooner. Read more about male and female fertility here and  fertility treatment  here.

Sources

1. Ash (accessed 01/02/2018) Smoking and reproduction, Page last reviewed: Dec 2016 http://ash.org.uk/information-and-resources/fact-sheets/smoking-and-reproduction/

2. British Medical Association (2014) Smoking and reproductive life; The impact of smoking on sexual, reproductive and child health, page 13 

3. NHS Choices [accessed 03/06/2018] Secondhand smoke, http://www.nhs.uk/smokefree/why-quit/secondhand-smoke

4. NICE (2013) Fertility problems: assessment and treatment. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

5. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (Aug 2017) Pre-conception advice and management https://cks.nice.org.uk/pre-conception-advice-and-management

6. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (2012) Smoking cessation https://cks.nice.org.uk/smoking-cessation

7. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (Feb 2018) Alcohol – problem drinking https://cks.nice.org.uk/alcohol-problem-drinking

8. A. Emanuele & NV Emanuele. ‘Alcohol’s Effects on Male Reproduction.’ Alcohol Health Research World 1998; vol.22, No.3,pp195-2011

9. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (January 2018) Alcohol and pregnancy https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/alcohol-and-pregnancy/

10. NHS Choices (accessed 01/05/2018) How can I improve my chances of becoming a dad? Page last reviewed: 24/07/2017 Next review due: 24/07/2020. https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1909.aspx?CategoryID=61&SubCategoryID=613

11. Wei Y, Schatten H, Sun QY (2015) Environmental epigenetic inheritance through gametes and implications for human reproduction. Hum Reprod Update  Mar-Apr;21(2):194-208. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmu061. Epub 2014 Nov 21.

12. Karayiannis D & Kontogianni MD, (2017) Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and semen quality parameters in male partners of couples attempting fertility. Human Reproduction. 2017 Jan;32(1):215-222. Epub 2016 Nov 14.

13. Salas-Huetos A, Bulló et al (2017) Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies. Human Reproduction Update. 2017 Jul 1;23(4):371-389. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmx006.

14. Coffua LS, Martin-DeLeon PA et al (2017) Effectiveness of a walnut-enriched diet on murine sperm: involvement of reduced peroxidative damage. Published online 2017 Feb 20. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2017.e00250 

15. Robbins WA, Xun L et al (2012) Walnuts improve semen quality in men consuming a Western-style diet: randomized control dietary intervention trial. Biology of reproduction. 2012 Oct 25;87(4):101. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.112.101634. Print 2012 Oct.

16. NHS Choices (accessed 01/03/18) Sexually transmitted Infections, Page last reviewed: 09/04/2018 Next review due: 09/04/2018.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis/

17. NHS Choices (accessed 01/03/2018) Chlamydia complications, Page last reviewed: 04/06/2018 
Next review due: 04/06/2021.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chlamydia/complications/

18. NHS Choices (accessed 01/03/2018) Gonorrhoea complications, Page last reviewed: 09/04/2018 
Next review due: 09/04/2018.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gonorrhoea/complications/

19. World Health Organisation (accessed 01/03/18) Sexually transmitted infections Page last reviewed: 03/08/2018 www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs110/en/

20. Thonneau P, Bujan L (1998) Occupational heat exposure and male fertility: a review. Human Reproduction 1998 Aug;13(8):2122-5.

21. Jung A, Eberl M et al (2001) Improvement of semen quality by nocturnal scrotal cooling and moderate behavioural change to reduce genital heat stress in men with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia. Reproduction. 2001 Apr;121(4):595-603.

22. NICE Guidelines (2013) Fertility problems: assessment and treatment National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

23. Ricci E, Vigano P et al (2017) Coffee and caffeine intake and male infertility: a systematic review. Nutrition Journal. 2017 Jun 24;16(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s12937-017-0257-2.

24. Food Standards Agency (1 March 2008) Assessment of caffeine consumption, altered caffeine metabolism and pregnancy outcome. https://www.food.gov.uk/research/national-diet-and-nutrition-survey/asse...

25. Buck Louis, GM, et al. Lifestyle and pregnancy loss in a contemporary cohort of women recruited before conception: The LIFE Study. Fertility and Sterility.  In press.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.03.009

Hide details

Last reviewed on June 5th, 2018. Next review date June 5th, 2021.

Was this information useful?

Yes No

Comments

Your comment

Add new comment