Any successful pregnancy starts with two key ingredients: a sperm and an egg. Fertility problems can originate with either the mother's egg or the father's sperm meaning both components need to be healthy in order to have a successful pregnancy.
Sperm is released in the semen when a man ejaculates. But exactly how much semen does it take to get pregnant? In this blog post, we cover how much semen is needed to fertilize an egg, and how you can boost your sperm count naturally.
Understanding the composition and role of sperm
Men release sperm cells during the process of ejaculation. The fluid released is called semen, and is made up of sperm cells suspended in seminal fluid. Seminal fluid contains many nutrients that support the lives of sperm cells, including large amounts of fructose.
Pregnancy occurs after ejaculation when sperm from the semen travels through the cervix into the uterus. When a mature sperm joins with an egg, fertilization occurs and an embryo is created. The embryo then implants itself in the uterine lining, resulting in pregnancy.
Sperm can survive in the uterus for several days, but an egg survives for only 12 to 24 hours. Therefore, it's important to time sex with your partner's fertile window if you are trying to conceive (TTC).
In order to get your partner pregnant, sperm need to be healthy and strong enough to survive in the vagina, travel to the uterus, and fertilize an egg. The more healthy sperm contained in your semen, the more likely it is that one of these sperm will make it to the uterus successfully.
A common obstacle to fertility is low sperm count or low semen volume. Other sperm abnormalities that can cause infertility include problems with movement (motility) and high numbers of immature, unformed sperm.
How much sperm is needed to fertilize an egg?
Only one sperm needs to survive in order to fertilize an egg. However, the journey from the man's testicle to the woman's uterus is long and arduous.
After ejaculation, a single sperm cell measuring only 0.5 mm needs to swim over 152 mm from the base of the cervix to the egg for fertilization. Not every sperm is up to the task.
Even though only one sperm is needed for fertilization, most sperm cells will not survive the journey from the testicle to the uterus. Of the 200 million sperm deposited near the cervix in an average ejaculation, only 100,000 make it to the womb.
For this reason, it's important to have a healthy sperm count when TTC. You should at least meet a minimum threshold of sperm per ejaculation for optimal fertility.
How much sperm is produced by a healthy male?
Unlike women, who are born with a lifetime's supply of eggs, men are not born with all of the sperm they will have in their lifetime. In fact, the average man produces 1,500 new sperm every minute.
Sperm are produced in the testicles and take 60 to 70 days to mature. Immature sperm that are not fully formed cannot fertilize an egg. A normal semen sample should contain at least 50 percent normal, mature sperm.
Semen needs a healthy concentration of sperm for optimal fertility. Fertile semen contains at least 20 million sperm per mL, with a total volume of at least 2 mL.
In other words, a healthy male should release at least 40 million sperm per ejaculation. Anything less than 15 million sperm per mL is considered a low sperm count, also known as oligozoospermia.
Sperm volume isn't the only factor that matters for fertility. Quality is just as important as quantity. Of the sperm released in a typical ejaculation, at least 75% should be alive and viable, and at least 50% should be motile at least one hour after ejaculation, for the best odds of conception.
Can you measure it?
The idea of measuring your semen might seem unusual and we aren't recommending that you ejaculate into a cup and measure it yourself at home. Your doctor can perform a comprehensive analysis of your semen and sperm counts to let you know if your fertility is normal.
Semen analysis is usually the first test doctors recommend for assessing male fertility. Your doctor will ask you to collect a sample of semen from masturbation or sexual intercourse (using a special cup or condom).
A lab will analyze your sperm sample to learn more about your fertility and send the results back to your doctor. He or she will look at your semen volume, sperm count, sperm concentration, viability, and motility to determine if any factors could negatively impact your fertility.
At least 30%-50% of infertility cases are due to male-factor infertility. If you are having fertility problems and find that your semen analysis comes back normal, however, remember that a healthy pregnancy relies on both partners' fertility.
Hormone levels are just one way in which women's fertility can be measured. Your partner can use a digital fertility tracker like Mira or visit the doctor for a blood test to analyze their hormone concentrations and how they affect fertility.
How low is too low?
Your sperm count is considered low if you have less than 15 million sperm per mL of semen or less than 39 million sperm per ejaculation.
Sometimes, semen analysis shows low sperm count despite typically normal ejaculation. If semen analysis shows low sperm count, your doctor will likely want to repeat the test in a few weeks to account for variables like timing and abstinence. You may have made an error during semen collection or ejaculated too close to the day of your analysis.
Your chance of getting your partner pregnant decreases as your sperm count does. However, some men with low sperm count are still able to conceive naturally. Others require the use of fertility medicine or a sperm donor. Assuming there is no female-factor infertility to compound the problem, these solutions are often successful in improving your partner's chance of pregnancy.
What are some ways to increase your sperm volume?
The good news is that unlike women, who are born with a fixed number of eggs, men are not born with a finite amount of sperm. Men are constantly producing new sperm.
Sometimes, low sperm count is due to genetic abnormalities, but many times it is correlated with controllable lifestyle factors. Men may be able to boost their sperm count by making small changes in their everyday lives.
Read on to discover some simple ways you might be able to boost your sperm quantity and quality at home.
Maintain a healthy weight
Studies show that men with a healthy BMI have more mobile sperm than those who are overweight or obese. If you struggle with infertility, talk to your doctor to see if weight loss could help you conceive.
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health -- and for your fertility. Research demonstrates that men who smoke regularly have a lower sperm count than those who do not.
Reduce exposure to toxins
Environmental toxins like radiation, industrial chemicals, and heavy metals can reduce fertility. Overheating the testicles by wearing tight clothing, visiting a sauna, or working with a laptop on your lap may also kill healthy sperm.
Certain supplements may boost your sperm quantity and quality. Men who took vitamin C every day saw higher sperm counts and increased motility. Testosterone levels, which are important for healthy sperm production, may also be raised by taking vitamin D. Some experts also swear by herbal remedies like tribulus terrestris, ashwagandha, and fenugreek.
Quincy Smith is part of the marketing team at Mira, a fertility tracker that helps women track hormone levels at home.