Boxers or briefs? Preconception tips for men

January 27, 2017 | by Jeffrey Fitzer, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

It takes two to make a baby. We focus a lot on preparing women for pregnancy, but what about men? About one-third of all infertility cases are from male infertility alone. A common cause is low sperm counts, poor sperm quality, or both.

Some factors that can affect sperm quality and decrease male fertility include:

  • Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatment for cancer
  • Exposure to environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead
  • Certain diseases and medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, kidney disease, hormone problems)
  • An injury, repeated infection
  • Some medications (e.g., for high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and pain)

A man's overall health and lifestyle choices also impact his fertility. As couples set out to have a family, dads-to-be can improve the odds of a successful and healthy pregnancy with the following:

Don’t delay fatherhood too long. Research suggests age affects male fertility in a similar way to a woman’s, but on a different timeline. As men get older, changes in sperm can reduce fertility and increase the risk for chromosomal problems with offspring. One option for men who plan to delay fatherhood is to freeze their sperm.

Consider a multivitamin. We know women should take folic acid before and during pregnancy. Some research suggests antioxidants (vitamins C and E) found in most multivitamins may improve sperm quality. A prospective father should ask his doctor about taking a daily multivitamin.

Don’t smoke or do drugs!  Aside from the obvious health risks, smoking is also linked to reduced sperm quality and increases the chances of male infertility by 30 percent. A pregnant woman who is exposed to secondhand smoke has 20 percent higher chance of giving birth to a baby with low birthweight. Men should stay away from anabolic steroids, marijuana and other illicit drugs too, which can affect sperm quality and cause infertility among men.

Ease up on the alcohol.  Research has found that heavy drinking in men can reduce sperm count and even cause sperm abnormalities. Prospective dads should limit themselves to one or two drinks a day to keep their sperm healthy enough to conceive.

Turn down the heat.  Heat in extreme amounts, such as long stays in hot tubs and saunas and use of heating pads and electric blankets, could cause the testicles to become too hot, which may temporarily decline semen quality. Some research suggests tight clothing like briefs and spandex could similarly affect sperm quality, so men may want to trade in briefs for boxers while trying to conceive. Until more research can determine if laptops have a negative effect on male fertility, men may want to work with their laptop on a desk or table, rather than on their lap, while trying to conceive.

Check your medicine cabinet. Talk to your doctor about your meds, as some medications to treat high blood pressure, digestive problems, infections, asthma, arthritis or other conditions may impact male fertility.

Lose the extra weight. Obesity among men is associated directly with increasing male infertility. To help reach and maintain a healthy weight, dads-to-be should adopt a healthy lifestyle of regular exercise and healthy eating, including a plant-based diet and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Watch your workout. Try to avoid overly intense exercise, which may negatively impact male fertility. Researchers have found avid bike riding may affect the health of sperm, because of the rise in temperature and possibility of injury.

Before trying for a baby, both women and men need to do their due diligence. While moms-to-be get prenatal care, prospective dads should meet with their doctor and discuss their general health too.

Also, both partners should adopt a healthy lifestyle. By getting healthy as a couple, you give yourself the best chance for a successful and healthy pregnancy.

Learn more about pregnancy and baby services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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