By LOUISE JOHNSON
We’ve just celebrated all those dads in our lives and hey presto, it’s Fertility Week –a perfect time to talk about men and fertility, no?
If you only ever read women’s magazines, you could have the misconception (pardon the pun) that becoming a parent doesn’t involve men at all, that only women struggle with infertility and that it’s only a woman’s age that counts when it comes to conceiving and making healthy babies.
Let’s bring the blokes into the picture:
1. Male infertility affects about one in 20 men. For about one in five (heterosexual) couples having trouble getting pregnant, the fertility problem lies solely with the guy.
2. A man’s age also impacts on a woman’s ability to conceive and have a healthy baby. The quality of a man’s sperm decreases over time. As a man ages, it takes longer for him to get a woman pregnant. There’s also an increased risk of a woman not conceiving at all. Whatever the age of the mother, the risk of miscarriage is higher if the father is over 45. As men age, the children they father are at greater risk of autism, mental health problems and learning difficulties.
3. Smokers beware! Tobacco smoking is not only a well-known case of lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, it also reduces fertility. Men who smoke heavily produce up to 20 per cent fewer sperm. Tobacco smoke also damages the sperm’s DNA – the genetic material that’s going to ‘make up’ your child.
4. Men create sperm approximately every 70 days, so if you’re trying to conceive, make sure that the sperm is as healthy as it can be.
5. While there’s no evidence that wearing ‘budgie smugglers’ affects men’s fertility, it’s true that hot testes have trouble making sperm. So men who want to make a baby should stay away from hot baths, spas and saunas – and wear boxer shorts to be on the safe side.
6. The number of overweight and obese men in Australia is on the rise. That’s not good news for the fertility of Australian men – obese men (men with a BMI over 30) are less fertile, with lower sperm counts and fewer sperm that can swim well.
7. Binge drinking and regular heavy drinking can affect men’s health, including sexual function and fertility. And as women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant are advised to not drink alcohol at all, male partners who show their solidarity and support by quitting drinking or cutting back might well earn some brownie points.
8. If you’re trying for a baby, have regular sex! While it helps to know when in a woman’s cycle the fertile window is, hitting the target within those crucial three days is more than likely when you’re having sex at least three times per week.
9. Speaking of sex, if you want to have a family down the track, protect your fertility by protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia can not only cause infertility (for both men and women) if left untreated, they can often show no symptoms – your best defence is a condom. If you’re planning to get pregnant, get checked out for STIs before throwing those condoms away.
10. Bodybuilding? Be aware that steroids shrink the testes and stop sperm production. It can take one to two years for sperm production to return to normal.
If you’re planning on trying for a baby soon, have a preconception health check-up to give yourself the best chance and address any potential difficulties at the outset. At www.yourfertility.org.au you’ll find the ‘Get Baby-ready’ questionnaire to fill out and take to your doctor. There’s also more fertility information and an ovulation calculator.
Fertility Week is brought to you by the Fertility Coalition: Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, Andrology Australia, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and the Robinson Institute of the University of Adelaide. Louise Johnson is part of the Fertility Coalition.
So much effort has gone into distributing fertility information to women, but little for men. Did any of these 10 points surprise you? Do you know a man who has struggled with fertility?