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March 1, 2022
How to be an equal partner in the process of trying to conceive
Trying to get pregnant can be a very exciting time. Ideally, trying to conceive (TTC) should feel like something you are doing as a team. But it isn't always simple and easy, and at times, it can put pressure on a relationship.
This article will discuss why the fertility burden so often lies with the female partner, and what men can do to be an equal partner when TTC or undergoing infertility treatment.
Trying to conceive may be more physically involved for the female partner, but there's still plenty the male partner can do to support the process and improve the chances of success.
Simple step like attending doctor's appointments or getting a semen analysis can let your partner know you're committed and taking this process seriously.
How does the female partner typically prepare for TTC?
In straight couples, the woman often goes through a lot of preparation when TTC. This is likely to include:
A preconception visit. This is a medical checkup before pregnancy to make sure you're healthy when you get pregnant, and to proactively identify any potential concerns.
Taking prenatals. Taken daily, these supplements contain vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy pregnancy.
Adopting a healthier lifestyle, with no smoking/drinking. To have the best chance of having a healthy pregnancy, women may decide to eat a more balanced diet and cut out smoking and alcohol in preparation.
Tracking cycles, periods, and ovulation. There is only a small window of time each month when a woman can get pregnant - the fertile window. There are about six days during each menstrual cycle when you can get pregnant. To give you the best possible chance of conception, a woman can track her menstrual cycle and work out when she ovulates.
Your partner is likely taking some or all of the above steps, for months before even getting pregnant. You may feel like you do not have to get too involved at this stage. But, there are many ways to prepare for conception as a man, and show that you are equally committed.
How can the male partner get involved with trying to conceive?
How can a guy participate in the process of getting pregnant, and make his sperm stronger for pregnancy? Here are six steps a man should take when trying to conceive:
Educate yourself about the process of trying to conceive
Getting more involved and understanding the process of getting pregnant is helpful for everyone — and can show your wife that you’re a true partner in this journey. Increasing your knowledge about conception, and especially sperm quality, will give yourself the best chance of success.
You may also get involved or show interest in understanding your partner's cycle. That can take the pressure off her to explain the best time to have sex or to initiate sex.
If you’re still early in the TTC process, you might not have thought about getting a sperm test, known as a semen analysis. But sperm testing can identify any problems quickly, and give you an overview of your fertility. Even if you and your partner just started TTC, getting a semen analysis could be a valuable step in your conception journey.
Plus, sperm testing can be via masturbation done at home — it’s less difficult and invasive, and more affordable, than most female fertility testing. Learn more about at-home sperm testing.
Sperm testing, from the comfort of home
Sperm is half of the equation when it comes to having kids. Testing gives you the tools you need to understand and optimize your fertility.
Live a healthier lifestyle to improve sperm health
A healthy lifestyle can play a significant role in optimizing fertility. Try to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, wear loose underwear, and reduce smoking and alcohol intake.
Take a male fertility supplement
Taking well-researched male fertility supplements may help boost male fertility and improve sperm quality. What vitamins should a man take when trying to conceive? Look for a supplement that contains antioxidants like CoQ10, vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, selenium, as well as folate, vitamin D, zinc, L-carnitine, and D-aspartic acid.
If you are trying to conceive, you and your partner should be having sex at least every other day during the fertile window. Getting pregnant can take time — often many months. That's a lot of time in the bedroom.
Fertility tracking and other baby-making efforts can sometimes take the shine off the spontaneity. Having to schedule sex does not always feel sexy.
But you can still keep it fun — and making the effort can do wonders to improve the connection between you and your partner. Why not take the opportunity to do something special or exciting? Try a new position, bring out some costumes, role play, or make the environment extra romantic. You can even change the location to a fancy hotel. Whatever helps you both stay relaxed and helps you look forward to sex while trying to conceive.
Attend doctor's appointments or fertility consultations together
If you or your partner have an appointment that is part of your conception journey, it can be so important to go together.
Sometimes there can be a lot of information to take in and share with your partner, so it helps if you both hear it first-hand. Both of you can ask questions directly to the doctor, to alleviate fears and feel more at ease. There can be a lot of anticipation and fear around attending fertility appointments, but reproductive specialists are there to help relieve your anxiety and answer any questions.
Plus, it can help just to have your partner hold your hand when stressed or upset. Mutual moral support is one of the key factors in maintaining a healthy relationship during fertility struggles.
How to support a your partner emotionally during infertility
Lisa Schuman, LCSW, a fertility-focused social worker and director of The Center for Family Building, says it’s helpful for couples to understand that they may cope with infertility differently from their partners. "It's much better to ask your partner directly how they are feeling and what you can do to support them at this specific time," she states.
Especially during fertility treatments, a couple may find trying to conceive to be an emotional rollercoaster. They may not know how fertility treatment will affect them physically or emotionally — particularly for the partner who’s taking hormone medications and undergoing treatment — or how other social situations they may face (such as a sibling or colleague getting pregnant) may stir up mixed emotions.
"It's much better not to try to anticipate your partner's feelings or how to respond to them," advises Schuman. "The best thing you can do is ask 'what can I do for you?' Let your partner know that you want to be there to support them, that you are in this together, and that you want to know what they need."
And sometimes, the best thing you can do is just listen. There isn't always something you can fix or change — but you can always listen and be to support each other.
Why is infertility often perceived as a women's health issue?
A small 2020 study published in the Journal of Reproductive Health revealed that both men and women perceived fertility as a women's health issue. Despite this persistent belief, the experts estimate that approximately ⅓ of infertility cases in hetero couples are due to female factors, ⅓ due to male factors, and the remaining ⅓ due to a combination or unknown cause.
Research highlights that, in heterosexual couples, men may feel more disconnected from fertility and pregnancy because they don’t have the physical experience of carrying a baby. The culture surrounding parenting and family building tends to build a picture that conception and pregnancy is a woman's domain. Studies show that infertility can have a more significant impact on female mental health when compared to male.
Lisa Schuman explains that, from a young age, many women think actively about reproduction — regardless of whether they want to have children later in life. A female person’s menstrual cycle reminds them what their bodies are “supposed to do" every month.
Plus, young people are taught that pregnancy is always a high risk. This messaging may help prevent teen pregnancy, but can have the unintended effect of overstating how easy it really is to conceive a baby.
Many women spend most of their younger years trying not to get pregnant. Then "they simply assume it will just happen when they are ready," says Schuman. "When someone tells a woman they might have trouble conceiving, the world can then come crashing down on them."
Studies show that infertility is more likely to affect a woman's mental health compared to men, and can cause feelings of low self-esteem, guilt, loneliness, social isolation, and stress. "In fact," continued Schuman, "there is research that shows women who go through fertility treatment unsuccessfully can experience the same levels of depression as a woman undergoing chemotherapy."
As a male partner of a couple who is having difficulty conceiving, understanding the impact that infertility may have on your partner, and being open to discussing those feelings, is key to providing support and partnership.