Writers note: This article was originally published in July 2020 and has been updated in July 2021
Historically, our culture has not always included men in the preconception conversation. There is a growing awareness around men as birthing partners and paternal post-natal support, but there is a gap when it comes to preconception care despite them playing such a central role. This is well documented in the literature, and it’s something that I’ve noticed clinically as well.
We’re seeing a remarkable cultural acceptance of shifting gender fluidity and gender roles. And I would love to see this happening in the preconception phase of babymaking. The health of men at the time of conception not only is vital for a healthy pregnancy but also has a profound effect on the health of future generations, their relationship, their experience of becoming a father and improved body confidence.
I would love to see a broadening of what has once been considered “Women’s Business” when it comes to menstruation fertility, and childbirth to a fluid conversation had within couples and their health care providers.
Sperm, Epigentics & The Impact of Lifestyle.
Most spontaneous genetic mutations arise in humans via the father’s, not the mother’s, reproductive cells (John eight can 2017). Male factors alone or in combination with female factors contribute to 50% of infertility challenges.
Let’s take a moment to give a whistle-stop tour of epigenetics. What we know about epigenetics, is that environmental, lifestyle, mental and emotional factors can switch genes on and off in our DNA. What is presently “switched on” will be conferred to eggs and sperm: the starting ingredients for a new human. Therefore, if we have activated certain genes that contribute to health challenges, then that will be passed on to the next generation. The effect of these epigenetic changes in sperm can affect the outcome of pregnancy in four main domains:
- Impairment of male fertility: due to alterations in sperm morphology (how many sperm have the proper tad-pole shape), count (how many sperm cells are there in total) and motility (how many can swim forward).
- Influence on embryo development: poor sperm health is a contributing factor to recurrent miscarriage and early miscarriage.
- Poor outcomes of assisted reproductive technology (ART)
- Health conditions in offspring.
That may all seem a little overwhelming, but hopefully, it will clarify just what important role men have to play here! Many factors are within your control and will all have a hugely positive effect, including:
- Diet and nutrition
- Eliminating factors that are known to reduce fertility; such as smoking, alcohol, recreational drugs and certain prescription medications
The life cycle of a sperm cell is just over two months. So committing to three to four months of preconception care while making these changes, is my recommendation.
Male Fertility Testing – What Should I Know?
While women contribute one cell (the egg) per cycle, men contribute millions. On average, there are 60–80 million sperm per millilitre of semen.
It’s essential to get a preconception pre-screen test through your primary health care practitioner from the get-go (each country will have different parameters that they test – so talk to your doctor). A sperm test is a second-line investigation to be considered if you and your partner have been trying for over six months.
It’s important that due to the fast turnover of sperm – 20,000 sperm are produced per heartbeat! – to know that tests can change quite quickly. A single sperm test will not give a definitive answer; you’ll typically need at least two spaced by 30 days. The preconception phase is a great time to address any other health challenges you are experiencing. You may like to work with a holistic practitioner to help you identify your root causes and help you develop a healthy lifestyle specific for you.
Practical Nourishment for Men’s Fertility
The Mediterranean Food Plan has solid research behind it for promoting fertility in both males and females. It’s a style of eating that embraces a diverse array of colourful fruit and vegetables, oily fish, beans, eggs, small amounts of meat, extra virgin olive oil, full-fat dairy and small amounts of dark chocolate. This guide will get you started.
It’s an easy food plan to follow and adjust for those who choose to be meat-free, or if you have food intolerances to dairy or gluten. If you have multiple food sensitivities, it will be best to work with a nutritionist or naturopath to help you craft an individualised plan.
Minerals and vitamins that are essential for men to take in the preconception period are selenium, zinc, vitamin D, folate and vitamin B12. You can download the holistic preconception checklist for a recommendation of a good quality prenatal that will provide all of this for you.
What’s Off the Table?
While it would be ideal for men to avoid all alcohol during the preconception period, this can be a hard sell. A middle ground it keeping to one standard drink a day interspersed with some alcohol-free days during the week. Smoking (including vaping) is bad news and has many adverse effects on fertility, seek support to quit as soon as you can.
Excessive caffeine reduces the chances of conception and is linked with early pregnancy miscarriage. Aim to keep your intake to 200mg of caffeine a day or less. You can use an online caffeine calculator to help you calculate what your current daily intake is, and to start bringing it down below 200mg if it exceeds this currently.
If you’re taking any pharmaceutical medications, while you’re getting your preconception screen test with your doctor, asked for a medication review. Some of the medicines you’re taking may have an impact on fertility. Additionally, refraining from any recreational substances, including cannabis, should be avoided for the three-month preconception phase.
Finding A Language that Invites Participation.
A considerable part of the work I do in my practice is teaching women how to understand their bodies and to know when they can and can not get pregnant each month using the fertility awareness method. When we have a language to describe and understand our cycles, it gives the men in our lives a language to participate in that conversation too. It also provides them with an invitation to learn more about their bodies.
When this conversation occurs, it positions a couple within a dynamic of equality and shared decision making as to if and when they wish to have children. Culturally, we need to allow men to be curious, participate and understand their importance.
If you’d like a see what a go plan takes you and your partner through the process of a holistic preconception plan, make sure you download the holistic preconception plan checklist.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:
- We Need to Talk About Hormone Imbalance and Why They’re so Tricky to Test
- Knowing When You Can Conceive, with Fertility Awareness
- Gathering the Building Blocks: The Importance of Preconception Nutrition
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Fertility Apps & Devices
- How to determine the best time to get pregnant (without apps, test kits, calculators or specialists)
- Folate & making babies: Which one to choose?!
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