One in three cases of infertility are caused either by a problem with the man’s fertility or with both partners; so it’s worth both of you being tested at an early stage.
How is male fertility measured?
Fertility in men is judged on both the quality and quantity of sperm in semen.
If you and your partner are having infertility investigations, the doctors will ask him for a semen (ejaculate) sample which will be analysed for:
- Sperm count (number): The normal range is 20 to 600 million sperm in a volume of 1 to 4 millilitres (ml). A low sperm count is called oligozoospermia. It is possible to have a normal sperm count and be sub-fertile as other things need to be looked at.
- Sperm motility (movement): This is the proportion of sperm which are moving. Only those with a rapid, forward movement are considered viable. Low sperm motility is called Asthenozoospermia.
- Sperm morphology (shape): In a fertile man’s sperm, up to 40 per cent may be abnormal– but problems arise when the majority are misshapen and defective. This condition is called Teratozoospermia.
- No sperm at all: Some men do not produce any sperm and this is called Azoospermia.
How to boost your man’s fertility
Fertility in men is affected by a number of factors (see below) – but he can take the following self-help steps to improve his sperm quality.
- Wear loose boxers and avoid tight trousers: Sperm needs to be kept cooler than body temperature to be in the best condition.
- Shower rather than take a hot bath: Again, as sperm needs to stay cool, it’s best to avoid long hot soaks.
- Stop smoking and drinking: Both affect sperm quality.
- Take care with diet: Zinc can boost fertility, so take a supplement or eat zinc- rich foods such Brazil nuts, eggs and seafood. Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables too for their high vitamin C content which can also help.
- Keep in good health: Even minor colds and coughs can affect sperm quality, as it takes 73 days to be made in the testicles).
- Don’t smoke cannabis or take steroids for bodybuilding: Both can affect sperm quality.
- Get him to lose weight: Being overweight can be damaging for sperm quality. It’s also not good to be underweight.
- Avoid chemicals: Some chemicals such as pesticides, flame-retardants in furniture and substances used in food packaging etc. can block the male hormone androgen and lower sperm count.
- Talk to your GP if you are taking any prescription drugs as some may lower/harm your sperm count.
- Get any problems with the testicles treated: For example infections, testicular cancer lumps etc.
Treatments for male fertility problems
- Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm injection (ICSI) is used as part of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF): It involves taking a single sperm and injecting it directly into the partner’s egg. It is now used in 50 per cent of IVF cases and has revolutionised IVF treatment for men.
- Surgery: Surgical procedures can correct some abnormalities in the testicles. For example, epididymal (tubes in the testicles) blockages can be cleared with surgery.