When to seek help getting pregnant
- Maintain a healthy BMI - being overweight can affect sperm quality.
- Don’t smoke or take recreational drugs, both can affect sperm health and can impair sex drive. Partners of male smokers also have an increased risk of miscarriage.
- No more than eight standard alcoholic drinks per week.
- Some prescription medications can affect sperm health, check with a GP.
- Eat well. A healthy balanced diet will provide the body with all the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to encourage healthy sperm production.
- Regular ejaculation helps increase the quality of sperm. Have sex two to three times a week.
- Warm temperatures might affect the testis' ability to make sperm. For safety, avoid spas, saunas, hot baths and putting a laptop on your lap.
A detailed semen analysis will record the factors below and determine whether an ejaculation sample is normal or abnormal.
- Number (concentration) and movement (motility) of sperm. A healthy semen sample contains around 40 to 60 million sperm with at least half of them swimming appropriately. If a man isn’t producing enough sperm, the chance of conception is significantly reduced.
- Shape (morphology). A healthy sperm has an oval head and a long tail which propels it forward. Sperm with abnormal shaped heads or curled or double tails are less likely to fertilise an egg.
- Quality. The genetic information (DNA) carried in the sperm head – that meets with equivalent information in the egg after fertilisation – also needs to be healthy. If there is DNA damage this can lead to poorly developing embryos and a risk of miscarriage. A regular turnover of sperm leads to less DNA damage, so regular ejaculation is important.
Occasionally an ejaculation sample will be normal but the male or female immune system accidentally makes anti-sperm antibodies which prevent the natural binding between sperm and eggs.
Other problems that can occur are:
- Obstruction. Sometimes, sperm face an obstruction that prevents them from leaving the male reproductive system and no sperm will be seen in a semen sample. Some men are born without the tubes (vas deferens) that carry sperm from the testicles; others can have a blockage following infection or surgery.
- Absent sperm production. In some men, the amount of sperm produced by the testicles is so low that none appear in the ejaculation at all. This is commonly a genetic issue but sometimes sperm can be found through minor surgery on the testicles and used in IVF to fertilise the partner’s eggs.
- Unexplained. For many men the reason for changes to a normal sperm test cannot be explained. However factors such as genetic disorders, undescended testis, infections, heat, drugs or radiation damage are known to disrupt the production of healthy sperm. In many cases there are no treatments to correct poor sperm production which means that fertility treatment is required to achieve a pregnancy.