What Men Really Need to Do Before Trying for A Baby
If it takes two to tango, so why is conception left up to the mum?
Male fertility isn’t really considered an issue unless falling pregnant takes longer than expected. Even then, it’s after the mother has a checkup. There are a few things that affect male fertility where dads need to make lifestyle changes to improve their chances of conceiving, and preconception counselling can help them make these changes.
Professor Rob McLachlan is the director of ‘Healthy Male’, an organisation that helps to make men aware of their reproductive health. “If you’re going to try to make children, you have to look after yourself at the time, because your sperm health is important to the child,” he says.
Men need to take a trip to the doctor before even thinking about children. Sperm is made throughout their life and takes two months to do so. But, if they don’t look after themselves, they are putting both the mum and baby at risk of health problems. “Your sperm health is important to the child. Obesity, poorly controlled diabetes, smoking, there’s good evidence that being in these conditions at the time you conceive a child will have health effects on the offspring. These children are more likely to grow up with blood pressure and diabetes, for example,” says Professor McLachlan.
3 things that affect male fertility
Many men are surprised that their weight can have an effect on their partner’s ability to fall pregnant. Being overweight can lower sperm movement and count. This means it can take a lot longer to fall pregnant. Testosterone is reduced in overweight men, which can affect the ability of a man to maintain an erection. Obesity can also affect the baby, as the genes carried in Dad’s sperm may not function properly.
Smoking can affect genes too. It’s quite rare these days to see a pregnant woman smoking, but can a man who smoke affect his unconceived child? The risk of infertility amongst smokers is up to twice that of non-smokers. It can take one year to reverse the effects of smoking on fertility. “Smoking kills you, right? We can all agree on that. Well, out of all the time in your life you’d want to get your act together, to renovate your lifestyle and stop smoking, do it just before you make your first child,” says Professor McLachlan. The rate of cancer is higher in the children of men who smoke too.
The quality and the amount of sperm also decrease in dads over 45 years old. This means it may take longer to fall pregnant and there’s a higher risk of miscarriage. The problem may stem from the male, but it’s the woman who’s affected. “Of course, if there are fertility problems stemming from the male, he has erectile problems or whatever, it could be that she gets treatment given to her. Assisted reproduction procedures can come at some burden to her, but it’s a male problem,” says Professor McLachlan.
Men may be aware that women have a biological clock, but preconception counselling may be needed to give them a reality check. “Men have a responsibility to be supportive of partners in order to make these decisions, not, ‘we’ll go to Bali and do it next year’,” says Professor McLachlan. “You might feel that you’re young and frisky, you’re 41 and she’s 37. You’re getting some mileage on the clock and you need to bring these things forward before you fall into this issue and have to try IVF or some other thing.”
Professor McLachlan says, “It’s a great time to reflect upon your vulnerability as a man. Preconception counselling if you like, I think men need to think about.”
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