Through the “trying to conceive” journey, women receive heaps of advice and encouragement, from tips to boost their fertility to online support groups dedicated to infertility. Conceiving is a journey that involves a male partner as well. In the United States, men account for one-third of fertility problems, while women account for another third, and the remaining cases may be due to a mix of issues or simply unknown.1 That means men face infertility at the same rates as their female partners, but may not have access to the same resources. To our male readers — if you’re out there and hoping to conceive, this post is for you.
How male infertility (and fertility) works
For men, fertility primarily depends on the health of the sperm. A semen analysis can assess the number of sperm (concentration), motility (movement) and morphology (shape), which help determine what causes might contribute to infertility issues.2 Factors such as disruption of testicular or ejaculatory function, hormonal disorders or even genetic conditions may be underlying issues, all of which can be diagnosed by and discussed with a healthcare provider.
How to make a fertility plan for men
Even if you aren’t ready to have children in the near future, your preconception health is still worth keeping in mind. The CDC defines preconception health as “the health of women and men during their reproductive years,” or “parts of health that have been shown to increase the chance of having a healthy baby.”3 Preconception health is important for both women and men but may be more top-of-mind for women. A few ideas for men include:
- Getting screened and tested for any sexually transmitted diseases.
- Taking caution around toxic substances, such as chemicals, metals, bug spray or fertilizer.
- Learning your family history to understand potential genetic conditions that could affect you or future children.
- Caring for yourself mentally. This is important in all stages, but especially as you look to become a parent. We have some tips for this in a bit.
- Quitting habits like smoking, using certain drugs and drinking excessive alcohol. These can impact your overall health, as well as your fertility.4
Thoughtful steps and conversations around family planning are important, whether having kids is just around the corner or further down the road.
How to take care of yourself physically
If a semen analysis reveals low sperm count, you might be wondering how to increase sperm count. Switching out any tight clothes or underwear for looser ones — like boxers instead of briefs —, reducing your alcohol consumption or making healthier diet and exercise choices are all relatively simple changes to make to protect your fertility. If you’re actively trying to conceive with a partner, try making some of those lifestyle changes together. Cooking a nice meal or taking a daily walk is a great way to make room for connecting and checking in.
How to take care of yourself mentally
No matter who you are, infertility and trying to conceive can be an emotionally painful journey at times. For men in particular, lack of mental or emotional support while dealing with infertility can be a real struggle. One study concluded that men do not readily share their fertility needs with people other than their partner, and therefore could be more vulnerable to severe anxiety.5 Rest assured, no one should go through this on their own. If this is something you’re struggling with as you try to become a parent, here are a few ideas to take care of your mental health:
- Tell your friends and family you’re trying to conceive. It may seem like TMI, but it gives them the opportunity to support you, check in and remain sensitive to your situation. There are also online support groups for people going through the same thing.
- Find a good therapist. Whether you see them as a couple or just on your own, a therapist can help guide you through your journey in a healthy way. Oftentimes, infertility brings up shame, guilt or self-criticism, all of which could be addressed with the help of a mental health professional.
- Allow space for negative emotions. You’re allowed to be angry. You’re allowed to feel sad. It’s okay to feel a complicated range of emotions, and with patience and support you can figure out how to channel them in healthy ways.
- Make time for your relationship. Odds are, if you’re going through infertility with a partner, they’re dealing with their own feelings. Schedule time to reconnect with a nice dinner or movie night. Maybe you want to process your emotions, or maybe you just want to escape and have fun for a while. Instead of letting the pain isolate you, put in the effort to bring you closer together.
How to stay positive through everything
If you’re feeling isolated while you’re working through fertility, you aren’t alone. One in eight couples (in which the woman is younger than 30) trying to conceive in the U.S. experience problems conceiving their first child.1 There are plenty of people who have walked this same path in pursuit of their dreams of a family. Between your medical specialists and your friends, family and community, you have a crowd of supporters there to help. What makes a father, a partner or a man is not defined by a ‘typical’ journey to having kids. What is far more important is staying open in your relationships, working through the challenges and being kind to yourself as you move towards parenthood.
- “Infertility” (2019), Office on Women’s Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility#:~:text=Most%20cases%20of%20female%20infertility,polycystic%20ovarian%20syndrome%20(PCOS)
- “Infertility FAQs” (March 2022), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm
- “Preconception Health: Overview”, (February 2020), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/overview.html
- “Preconception Health: Men”, (February 2020), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/preconception/overview.html
- Fisher, J. R., & Hammarberg, K., (2012), “Psychological and social aspects of infertility in men: an overview of the evidence and implications for psychologically informed clinical care and future research”, Asian journal of andrology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3735147/