Here’s What Men Need to Know About Trying for a Baby
Calling all dudes – learn the lifestyle factors that impact your baby-making skills and check out 8 tips for fertility
8 min read
When it comes to having a baby, it seems like mum does all the hard work – she’s the one growing and birthing baby after all. But dads-to-be, you play a crucial role too – mum can’t do it without you!
Although there are some things you can’t control when it comes to conception, especially mum’s age (unless you have a working time machine), there is heaps you can do to give you and your partner the best chance of conceiving. Here’s everything you need to know about men’s fertility – we’ve covered everything from the basics, like your role in conception, to 8 ways to help support your fertility.
No sex please
Baby making has been around for thousands of years, but thankfully these days we’re embracing the many ways this can happen. If you’re trying to have a baby without being part of a couple or you’re not going down the having-sex-with-each-other route, there are some great resources available. Check out our information on adoption, surrogacy and IVF, or having a baby in a same-sex couples or as a solo woman.
The basics: what’s the man’s role in conception?
Fertilisation is a delicate and tricky process. First, your sperm must break through the cervical mucus, travel the length of the uterus and then enter the fallopian tubes. Once in the tubes, your sperm must meet an egg, penetrate the egg’s protective coating and inner membrane and finally, fertilise the egg.
This means for fertilisation to happen, you need to have and keep an erection; have enough sperm that are the right shape, move in the right way and are healthy and strong enough to reach and penetrate the egg; and have enough semen to carry the sperm to the egg.
The basics: does male age matter when it comes to fertility?
Although not as much as a woman’s age, your age does matter. Your fertility usually starts to decline when you’re around 40-45 years – this is when sperm quality decreases. The older you are, the less likely the chance of pregnancy, the longer it’ll take and the more likely the risk of miscarriage.
Eight ways to boost your chance of conception
Discover 8 tips that could help you and your partner get pregnant.
Tip 1: Maintain a healthy weight
Getting ready to get pregnant is a bit like following good health advice at every other stage in your life. Staying at a healthy weight not only has wider health benefits, but it helps keep your sperm in good condition too.
If you’re overweight (classified as a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or higher), this can lower the quality and quantity of your sperm by up to 25%. If you’re obese (classified as a BMI of 30 or higher), this can lower sperm quality and quantity even more.
Aim for a BMI between 20 and 25. If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight may help improve the quality of your sperm. Have a chat to your GP for advice about the best way to do this.
Tip 2: Watch what you eat…
Like a mum-to-be, you can benefit from a varied, nutritious diet. Enjoying a healthy diet in the three months before trying for a baby can help protect DNA, support a healthy sex drive and promote healthy sperm.
It’s thought that low sperm count could be related to a zinc deficiency. Try foods that are high in zinc:
- Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans
- Seeds, especially hemp, pumpkin and sesame
- Nuts, especially cashews
- Dairy, like cheese and milk
Channel the people in the Mediterranean and take inspiration from their diet:
- Make sure you’re getting enough protein, like fish, chicken, lean red meat, eggs, dairy and legumes. Aim for 1 protein serving with each meal.
- Reduce, or avoid, saturated fats, trans fat and sugar.
- Stock up on healthy fats, including olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
- Choose wholegrains.
- Try to avoid processed foods high in sugar, salt, additives, colourings and preservatives.
- Tuck into antioxidant-rich foods, especially fruit and veg.
- Make water, or herbal tea, your drink of choice.
Tip 3: … and watch what you drink
An overload of caffeine can reduce the quantity and quality of your sperm. We’re talking 3 cups of coffee a day having an impact. If you’re trying for a baby, try to cut down to 1-2 cups of coffee a day. Watch out for caffeine sneaking into other things too, like energy drinks, soft drinks, tea and chocolate.
The HPA (Health Protection Agency)’s alcohol drinking advice is to drink no more than 3 standard drinks a day, and no more than 15 standard drinks a week and to have at least 2 alcohol-free days every week. Stay within these limits and it’s unlikely your sperm quality will be affected.
If you drink heavily on a regular basis, you may have lowered sperm counts and testosterone levels. Not to mention you may also have relationship problems, lowered libido and difficulties getting or maintaining an erection.
There is good news though: the effects of heavy drinking are quickly reversed once you reduce your drinking. So, if you’re normally a heavy drinker, cutting down as soon as possible can improve your chances of conceiving.
Tip 4: Check your medications
Medications can impact on your fertility. The best way to check is to chat with your GP. They’ll be able to suggest alternatives or advise if they’re safe to continue using.
Tip 5: Say no to drugs and smoking
Illegal drugs like anabolic steroids, cannabis and cocaine can all affect sperm quality. So can some over the counter and prescription drugs. It’s best to visit your GP to talk through any drug addiction.
Smoking is bad for your health in general. It can also damage your sperm quality. If you’re a smoker, it may take longer for your partner to get pregnant, especially if you’re a heavy smoker. This includes e-cigarettes and vaping. That’s because it’s thought that nicotine is the culprit in sperm damage.
It isn’t an easy thing to quit. You can either talk to your GP or check out the resources available in New Zealand to support you, like Quitline.
Tip 6: Keep your cool
Sperm likes to be a bit cooler – a couple of degrees cooler than normal body temperature, in fact. That’s when it’s healthiest. Heat up your sperm, and it can cause less good quality sperm and slower sperm production.
To help keep your sperm cool while you’re trying to conceive, you could try to avoid:
- Sitting still for long periods of time, like driving long distances. If long-distance driving is unavoidable, take plenty of times.
- Hot tubs, steamy baths and saunas.
- Using a laptop on your lap.
- Carrying your mobile phone in your trouser pocket.
- Wearing tight underwear.
Tip 7: Stay fit
Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, including a pre-baby-making one. It helps keep you at a healthy weight and a decent workout can help relieve stress, both of which can boost your fertility.
If you’re underweight (a BMI below 18.5) and you exercise a lot, you could think about cutting back your exercising. This might improve your chances of conception by helping you reach a healthy weight. Intensive, prolonged exercise could also cause poor-quality sperm, so maybe plan your next triathlon for after baby’s born.
Does cycling with its tight shorts and risk-of-squashed-bits cause fertility issues? The research is mixed. It seems to suggest if you’re a professional cyclist who cycles long distances very regularly, there may be some impact on sperm quality and quantity. But if you’re a moderate cyclist, perhaps you commute by bike or cycle as a hobby, it’s unlikely to affect your fertility. If you have any concerns, it’s best to chat to your GP.
Tip 8: Reduce stress
The less stressed you are, the better quality your sperm could be. Stress and depression can affect your hormone balance, which can affect your sperm production. It can also affect your relationship and lower your sex drive.
To help with baby making, make time to relax. Enjoy some moderate exercise, like a swim or a walk. Meditate. Put down the screen and pick up a book. Whatever you enjoy and calms you, do that (alcohol drinking, excessive caffeine consumption, smoking or drug-taking exempt!).
How long until lifestyles changes make a difference?
If you try any of these tips and adjust your lifestyle, they may not deliver an instant result. That’s because it takes about three months for your body to complete a cycle of sperm production. Any changes you make today will take at least this long to improve your fertility.
When should I see a doctor?
If you and your partner are healthy, you don’t need to visit your GP before you start trying for a baby. But if you have any health issues or are taking medication, talk to your GP. Certain conditions and medicines can affect your fertility.
If you’ve made some great lifestyle changes, and you’ve been trying for more than a year with no success, go to your GP with your partner. Go after six months, if your partner is over 35. Your GP can give advice on getting pregnant, or refer you to a fertility expert, if necessary.
If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, check out our pre-pregnancy healthy eating guide.