Preconception health for men: 7 ways to improve your fertility before trying for a baby

Improve your fertility preconception health

You’ve parsed parenting styles with your partner, figured out your finances, brushed up on your diaper-changing technique, and even cleared out the spare room to may way for a nursery. You are ready to be a dad, but are your sperm?

Approximately 14% of couples will experience infertility, and male fertility will be a factor in about half of those cases. All too often, men don’t know anything about their fertility until they start trying to conceive—and may even try for over a year before they see a specialist or get any testing. When was the last time you thought about your sperm? If your answer is “never,” you’re not alone.

The good news is that you can be proactive. Here’s our guide to improving your sperm health, and your chances of success, before you start trying to conceive.

 

1. Test your sperm health with a semen analysis.

If you want to improve your sperm, the best place to start is by understanding where you are now. A semen analysis is a simple, easy, non-invasive test that can tell you a lot about your sperm health and your overall fertility.

Here’s how it works: You collect a semen “sample” via masturbation and send it off to a lab, where an expert will examine it under a high-powered microscope. You’ll get a report back that tells you your sperm count/concentration (how many sperm you’re producing), motility (how well they’re moving), and morphology (whether or not they’re the proper size and shape). Each of these factors, known as “semen parameters,” can impact your ability to get your partner pregnant.

Learn more in our Guide to Sperm Testing.

Traditionally, a semen analysis is performed at a fertility clinic, where it’s usually required that you produce your sample on-site. This process can be awkward, not to mention expensive. With at-home sperm analysis, like we offer here at Legacy, you are able to collect your sample in the comfort of your home and ship it to the lab. Legacy’s kit offers clinic-grade analysis plus personalized recommendations for improving sperm health, based on your lifestyle and testing results.

ORDER YOUR AT-HOME SPERM TESTING KIT

 

2. Quit smoking and cut back on drinking.

We know smoking and drinking are no good for pregnancy, but did you know they can affect male fertility as well? Cigarette smoking has long been considered one of the leading factors in male infertility, and extensive research has determined that smoking is associated with significantly reduced sperm count and impaired motility, morphology, and genetic health. If you quit smoking, your fertility may improve fairly quickly, beginning to return to normal within six months. If you’re planning to or trying to conceive right now, you should quit smoking as soon as possible.

When it comes to alcohol, you don’t need to quit altogether; research tells us that occasional, moderate drinking has no serious effect on fertility. But habitual binge drinking is detrimental to sperm health, so keeping it to under 5 drinks per week is best. And your drink of choice matters here—while red wine and whiskey, which contain antioxidants, might actually provide a small boost to sperm health, beer and other liquors have no such benefit.

 

3. Start an exercise regimen.

Regular physical activity is associated with improved semen parameters, as well as healthier hormone profiles for fertility (such as higher levels of testosterone), but you don’t have to become a marathon runner overnight to enhance your sperm health. The best exercise for sperm health is actually the most straightforward: the simple habit of walking or jogging for at least 30 minutes, 3–6 times per week has been shown to have the greatest benefit for sperm motility and morphology.

In fact, going too hard can actually have the opposite effect on your sperm—intense activities such as long-distance running, and high-altitude mountain trekking are correlated with poorer sperm health. Also on the “avoid” list is cycling; researchers classify it as a “troublesome” activity for fertility, due to the pressure on the testicles from the bike seat.

 

4. Optimize your diet.

Our advice here should come as no surprise: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (such as what’s found in seafood and nuts)—and low in refined grains, processed meats, and added sugar—is associated with improved fertility. The meat-and-potatoes (and pizza and soda and fries) “Western diet” most of us are familiar with is detrimental to sperm, just as it’s detrimental to our health in nearly every other capacity.

If you’re looking for specific foods to increase male fertility, know it’s not that simple; it’s much more about patterns than about consuming one individual ingredient. But a good template can be found in the Mediterranean diet, based on the eating habits of those living in Greece, Italy and Spain. This diet, composed primarily of fruits and vegetables, seafood, healthy fats, and whole grains, has been shown to improve sperm health and pregnancy rates.

Learn more about the impact of smoking, drinking, exercise, and nutrition on fertility in our Guide to Sperm Improvement.

 

5. Get the right amount of sleep.

Sleep is essential for mental and physical health and wellbeing, and fertility is no exception. Regular sleep deprivation and extremes in sleeping patterns—such as sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours per night—is associated with poorer semen parameters. An average of 7–8 hours per night seems adequate or ideal for most adults.

There are a few easy ways to improve your sleep. Getting more exercise during the day (see tip #3!) can help you fall asleep more easily at night and get deeper sleep. Avoid screens for 30–60 minutes before bed, as their blue light can mess with your circadian rhythm and keep you awake. And you may find it beneficial to establish a bedtime “routine” to signal to ease your body into sleep—if anything, it’s a helpful habit to learn before you have a fussy newborn in the house, as sleep routines are essential for babies.

 

6. Ask your doctor about any medications you may be taking.

Some prescription medications have the unintended side effect of affecting testosterone levels or spermatogenesis, the process of sperm production in the testicles. While this isn’t an issue on a day-to-day basis, it may become one if you and your partner are trying to conceive. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, alpha blockers, antifungals, antibiotics, hair loss medications, Viagra, opiates, and corticosteroids have all been associated with reduced sperm count and sperm quality.

And it’s not just prescriptions that have the potential to decrease your fertility. Some over-the-counter medications you might be taking regularly, like melatonin (a hormone often used for sleep) and NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can adversely affect your chances of getting your partner pregnant. If possible, stop taking these while you’re trying to conceive.

 

7. Add male fertility supplements.

We know that prenatal vitamins are essential for women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant. But what vitamins should a man take when trying to conceive?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but there are several supplements that can benefit male fertility by boosting sperm count, improving motility or morphology, or increasing testosterone levels. One example is CoQ10, an antioxidant that appears to help protect sperm from the oxidative stress caused by pollution, illness, poor diets, and more. Another is maca root powder, a natural aphrodisiac that’s been shown to increase sperm motility and concentration.

Learn more in our Guide to Male Fertility Supplements.

Get started improving your sperm health today: Get a semen analysis.