My blogging focus is primarily on ALL THE THINGS a woman can do to maximize her fertility. This is because I had multiple infertility diagnoses and had to work really, really hard to take my eggs from no-good to stellar and completely beat the odds (read my story here). Because of this, sometimes I forget to give credit to someone equally important in our miracles- my husband.
We were blessed that my husband had great sperm counts- but that doesn’t mean he got off the hook when it came to lifestyle and diet changes! As I told him, it doesn’t matter how good your sperm count is- if you’re at a hotel and you soak in a hot tub and drink a bunch of beer, you are going to destroy your sperm. Not destroy forever mind you- sperm are forever regenerating. But they are on a 74 day cycle which means that if your husband/partner binge drinks/smokes/soaks in a hot tub, etc., today, he could decrease his sperm quality for almost three months. We weren’t willing to take that risk. In this post I’m going to talk about all the work my husband did when we were trying to conceive to OPTIMIZE his sperm health and his own personal well-being. I’m also going to talk about ways to test male sperm health and how to make decisions based on the results.
Check out my post on choosing the Best Male Fertility Supplements!
Check out this free report on how to Improve Sperm Health!
How We Optimized My Husband’s Motile Sperm Count
So, it isn’t just the sperm count that matters- it’s the motility (and the morphology to some extent). You need live, robust, swimming sperm that are moving towards the egg. The healthier and more robust the better chances of 1) the sperm actually reaching the egg and 2) the combined sperm and egg making a healthy, sticky embryo that makes it past the first couple weeks of pregnancy. Since we had a history of chemical pregnancies and early miscarriage, it was especially important that we optimize our embryo health!
We were lucky that my husband was already in good shape when we started trying to conceive- he had a healthy body mass index (translation: he wasn’t overweight), he’s never smoked or used recreational drugs, and he was physically active. He did, however, travel a lot for work. On work trips he would occasionally soak in the hot tubs at hotels, eat a bunch of unhealthy food, chug the coffee, and go out for drinks with colleagues after work. We also had family parties, vacations, weddings, and other events where drinking was the norm. So, it was time to make some changes! Since I was making sweeping changes too, so we made the commitment together.
First– We worked diligently to eliminate toxins from our home and his personal care regimen that are detrimental to sperm health. These include phthalates, BPA, parabens, triclosan, pesticides, and nonstick pans (read all about the science behind these toxins and sperm health here and read about all our favorite non-toxic options here). In addition to overhauling our kitchen and housewares, we switched out his deodorant, shampoo, soap, and aftershave to non-toxic alternatives. My husband was great about this- sure he was a little bit overwhelmed at the cost of all these changes at first, but when I sent him the studies showing how all of these harm male fertility, he was sold.
Second– We both totally overhauled our eating habits to an organic (i.e., pesticide-free), nutritious whole-foods-based diet. For hubby, this included eating male fertility superfoods like brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and almonds, as well as plenty of leafy greens and amino-acid packed meat and dairy (unlike poor me who had to give up dairy!). He was fully on board with minimizing sugar and white carbs (pasta, rice, white bread, etc), limiting eating out, and eliminating processed foods. He even replaced his breakfast with a protein-dense male fertility optimizing superfood smoothie. He also supplemented his diet with some specific male fertility optimizing vitamins including cod liver oil, a men’s whole-foods based multivitamin, folate, zinc, and R-Lipoic Acid. Check out my post on selecting male fertility supplements.
But not every part of changing the diet was easy! For him the hardest parts were reducing alcohol, caffeine, and eating healthy while traveling. Here’s how he did it:
- Alcohol– He totally and completely committed to not drinking at all at home, trying to limit to 1 alcoholic drink per social event and NEVER ever having more than three in one day. It didn’t matter if it was game day, if he was out drinking with colleagues, or if we were at a family party where the beers were coming fast and furious. He became an expert at drinking slowly for hours. The subterfuge was impressive. He looked liked he was drinking for the duration of an 8 hour party, but really he’d only had two to three low-alcohol content beers for the whole thing. Keep in mind that three drinks doesn’t necessarily mean three of anything you want, as my husband pointed out when I was writing this. Many IPAs for instance have an alcohol content that is two or three times higher than most lagers (in which case you would need to limit to one). Similarly, you can’t have three Long Island Ice Teas during a two-hour cocktail party and think you are okay. Be smart!
- Caffeine– This was the hardest nut to crack. When we started trying to conceive, my husband loved drinking Mountain Dew. So, so terrible. The caffeine, the sugar, and the food dyes are all so awful for overall health and fertility. First, he weaned from Mountain Dew to sugary/creamy coffee. Then he fell in love with coffee! Unfortunately, the caffeine was taking a toll on him- he was tired all day long unless he had just chugged a coffee. I had given up caffeine years before and it had totally changed the way I felt- I woke up alert, awake, and spent the day with tons of energy. So I sent him the research and he decided to take the plunge- he went 100% caffeine-free within 3 days, bless him! Instead he got his energy from his protein and calories dense morning smoothie, and from eating nourishing meals and snacks the rest of the day. And, of course, he got energy from sleep- sleep is very important for male (and female) fertility! I even got him drinking the nourishing Dandy Blend coffee alternative!
- Eating Out– This was the hardest part for my husband. Eating healthy while traveling is challenging, especially when trying to load up on veggies and avoiding white carbs. Breakfast is the easiest, choosing eggs, fruit, and oatmeal at the hotel breakfast buffets instead of pastries. For lunch and dinner, it means choosing a salad with chicken, or an entree that’s meat and veggies. My husband has never been a big dessert person, so avoiding unhealthy sweets after a meal was easy.
Third – He committed to changing habits and lifestyle choices to optimize sperm health. This meant he avoided overheating his testicles by avoiding hot tubs and hot baths and not wearing tight fitting underwear or workout clothes. He also continued to exercise in moderation, including scaling back a bit from his preference for 20-mile day hikes and running marathons. We also made one commitment he really enjoyed- having sex every day. The science shows that for men with good sperm counts, daily ejaculation actually INCREASES sperm health. He wasn’t complaining about that!
Does this sound like a lot? Well, it really was! Meanwhile, I was doing a ton also (79 things to be exact!) to optimize my fertility and egg health! Here’s the good news- you don’t have to do these things forever! Sperm are on a 74 day cycle, and eggs are on a 90 day cycle- make a commitment for you both to do ALL THE THINGS for 3-4 months and see what kind of miracle you can make (natural or via IUI or IVF)!
How to Assess Motile Sperm Count
It would be a mistake to tell you all about how we optimized sperm health without reminding you that in this day and age we have great tools that can accurately assess the current state of your partner’s sperm! There are two different ways to do this- one is if you’ve just started trying, and the other is if you are already struggling to conceive or diagnosed with infertility.
If you’ve just started trying to conceive, your doctors aren’t going to order you a full semen analysis. They are going to tell you to relax (ugh), go home, and have fun for a year if the woman is under 35, or for six months if she is over 35. If you fall into this camp it can’t hurt to do one of the best at-home sperm tests just to do a quick check and make sure you have sufficient motile (i.e., moving) sperm to make the magic happen. We had fun trying out the YO Home Sperm Test which is based on clinical automated semen analysis – but you do it at home on your smartphone. It’s the only test on the market that actually tests motile sperm count, and not just sperm count. The results include a video of your hubby’s sperm swimming! Even my husband admitted it was pretty cool.
If you get a positive result (greater than 6 million Motile Sperm), this doesn’t mean you have perfect, stellar swimmers, but it does mean you are good to try for the recommended year or six months before pursuing more tests. Remember, you still need to do ALL THE THINGS to maximize sperm health! If you don’t get a positive result (less than 6 million Motile Sperm) you have two choices- do ALL THE THINGS for 74 days and then use your second test that comes in the kit to see if you’ve bumped yourself up into a good motile sperm count OR you can bring your test results into your doctor and ask them to order you up a full semen analysis. They will be much more willing to do so with that kind of evidence in hand (so to speak).
If you’re on the long road to baby, then you’ll be in the world of full clinical semen analysis, which hopefully your insurance will pay for! In a full semen analysis they will look at semen ejaculate volume, sperm concentration, sperm motility, and sperm morphology. Now, if your results aren’t stellar your doctor may recommend IUI or IVF. Please, please, please, even if you are going down the path of assisted-reproduction, you still really need to be optimizing your sperm health! That will give your IUI or IVF an even better chance of succeeding. AND, if your results ARE stellar, don’t think that means you can go out and smoke, binge drink, and sit in a hot tub. NO! We are looking for optimized sperm to make optimized embryos.
Is all that clear as mud? Have a question? Leave it in the comments! Has your hubby made a commitment to overhauling his diet and lifestyle to maximize chances of conception? Tell us about it in the comments!
Want to read more? Check out my blog post on tips for male fertility!
And don’t miss this great report on boosting sperm health!
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Anna Rapp is a fertility journalist and non-toxic living expert. When Anna Rapp was struggling with infertility and recurrent early miscarriage, she was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve, High FSH, low AMH, low follicle count, endometriosis, and an MTHFR mutation. Despite being told donor eggs were her only solution, Anna used her graduate training in research methods and analysis to read everything she could find on fertility and egg health. Ultimately, she lowered her FSH and got pregnant naturally (twice). She blogs about how she did it and encourages her readers to take charge of their fertility journey and get happy, healthy, and pregnant!