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March 30, 2023
You may have heard that your sperm count — the number of sperm in your semen each time you ejaculate — is an important factor for your fertility. This is because a higher number of healthy sperm increases the chances that one of them will fertilize an egg.
While several other factors, including semen volume, sperm motility (movement), and sperm morphology (normal shape) also play an important role, we’ll focus mainly on sperm count and fertility in this article. But what is a normal sperm count? We’ll explore that question, along with how to test your semen and improve your sperm health for increased fertility.
According to the World Health Organization, standard sperm count values are 39 million or more sperm with each ejaculation. A range of 20 to 150 million sperm per milliliter of semen (with normal semen volume varying from 1.5 to 5 milliliters with each ejaculation) is also considered normal.
If your results indicate a lower-than-normal sperm count, first make sure you collected your semen sample properly. It’s best to analyze at least two samples from different times to get the most accurate results.
Alternatively, a low sperm count may result from various lifestyle habits or health issues. According to research from 2018, these factors may include:
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are present in many everyday products and the environment, are also linked to lower sperm counts and infertility. Endocrine disruptors you may be exposed to that could lower your sperm count include:
Sperm count matters because with fewer sperm, you’ll have a lower chance of successfully conceiving a pregnancy. In some cases, people will have no sperm in their semen and may need to use assisted reproductive technology to extract sperm from the testicles to fertilize an egg.
Sperm count is essential for fertility because you need enough healthy sperm to have a greater chance of fertilizing an egg. If a semen analysis finds sperm counts below the standard level and you have tried without success to conceive a child, you may be diagnosed with male-factor infertility.
In fact, research suggests sperm count is linked to up to 90% of male infertility issues, with other abnormal semen parameters possibly being related to sperm count as well.
Note, however, that a normal sperm count on its own may not be sufficient for fertility. The quality of your sperm, including its motility and morphology, also matters for sperm to effectively fertilize an egg.
Furthermore, even with low sperm counts, it may still be possible for you to conceive a child. In some cases, people with abnormal results from a semen analysis, including low sperm counts, still have sperm that can fertilize an egg to get their partner pregnant. As a result, while sperm count provides a valuable indicator regarding your fertility, abnormal results don’t definitively mean infertility.
Although your sperm count isn’t the only factor affecting your fertility, it’s still an important one, so you’ll likely want to take steps to improve your sperm health and increase your sperm count.
Certain lifestyle changes may help improve your sperm count. These include:
The sperm production process takes around two months, so it will be some time before you see any difference in your sperm count from lifestyle changes.
If your low sperm count has a medical cause, you can look into receiving treatment to resolve the issue. For instance, this may include surgery to correct a varicocele, antibiotics for an infection, or hormone medications if a hormone imbalance is causing low sperm counts.
If none of these methods work to increase sperm counts and you’re having difficulty conceiving, you may look into assisted reproductive technology. Procedures like in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) obtain sperm from ejaculation, or by surgically retrieving it from the testicles, then combine it with an egg in a lab dish. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg and creates an embryo, it can be implanted in the womb to lead to a pregnancy. If these attempts are also unsuccessful, using donor sperm or adopting a child are other options.
Legacy makes it easy to test your sperm with an at-home semen analysis. The analysis may be covered by insurance depending on your plan.
Once you’ve ordered and received your testing kit, you’ll start by collecting a sample of your semen through masturbation. Note that it’s important to avoid ejaculating for two or three days before testing your semen for the most accurate result.
After you ship your sample back, you’ll receive a sperm analysis report within two business days.
In addition to sperm count, the analysis will reveal your semen volume and sperm concentration, motility, and morphology — all additional important factors for assessing your fertility.
Again, these results won’t tell you definitively whether you’re fertile and capable of conceiving a child. Instead, they indicate your overall sperm health and point to areas that could potentially improve your fertility. These may be lifestyle changes or possible medical treatments for health conditions that could be harming your sperm. Understanding your sperm count and sperm health through a semen analysis is a valuable first step toward helping you conceive a child.
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