Thinking about starting a family? A little common sense coupled with an ounce or two of prevention can go a long way in having a healthy child. Once you and your partner decide you're ready to be parents, you probably want to get the baby show on the road right away. Many couples are surprised when it takes them 6 months or more to conceive; after all, haven't we spent most of our reproductive lives trying not to reproduce?
For couples actively seeking pregnancy, it can take months to achieve. If the woman is older, it can take even longer.
But fertility, or a lack thereof, does not rest only with the woman. You and your partner both have important roles to play. You will, after all, contribute half of your child's chromosomes. Indeed, it is your sexual chromosome make-up—XY—that determines the sex of the baby. There are things you can do to increase both your chances of conception and your odds of having a healthy baby.
How It All Works
Let's take a brief look at what's involved in the story of "Sperm Meets Egg."
Here's the short version: The male's sperm must navigate through the female's cervical mucus (now receptive at ovulation to the sperm), travel the length of the uterus, and enter the fallopian tubes.
Once in the fallopian tube, sperm must meet an egg, penetrate the egg's protective coating and inner membrane, and fertilize the egg.
What To Watch
Before you can take care of baby, you must begin by taking care of yourself. Stop anything that interferes with normal body functions, because it could have an effect on reproduction.
This means all the usual suspects need to go. Recreational drugs, like marijuana and anabolic steroids can reduce sperm counts. While men don't need to abstain from alcohol completely, heavy drinking can reduce overall sperm count. Moderate drinking is considered 2 drinks or less per day.
The bottom line: When it comes to health, use common sense. If it's bad for you, it's most likely bad for your baby-to-be.
Common sense will take you only so far, though. There are a few fertility factors of which you might be unaware. For example, males, especially those with low sperm counts, should avoid saunas and hot tubs.
Some medications can also affect reproductive ability. For example, chemotherapeutic agents can increase infertility. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist to determine if any medications you're taking may have unwanted side effects. Some men who know they are about to undergo chemotherapy elect to have their sperm frozen before the treatment regimen begins.
Too Much of a Good Thing
You might think that one of the best things you can do to get in shape is to exercise. And when it comes to exercise, more is better, right? Well, it depends. First, take a look at what types of exercise you're doing. If you're involved in a sport that puts your genitals at risk—such as soccer, rugby, or football—make sure you wear proper protective gear. If you do get injured, seek medical attention immediately, as genital injuries can be very serious.
Other sports, such as bicycling, may also curtail your sperm production if done for an extended period of time.
It's important to exercise, just do so in moderation, because exercising excessively can reduce overall sperm count.
The Biological Clock
It's true that the woman's age affects both a couple's ability to conceive and the health of the baby. However, the man's age is still a factor. One study in Denmark concluded that paternal age may be associated with an increase risk of birth defects.
Speaking of age, treating yourself well now will pay off down the road. You're going to want to keep up your healthy habits for a long while to come.
Reproductive Facts—American Society for Reproductive Medicine
RESOLVE—The National Infertility Association
Men's Health Centre
Sexuality and U—The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
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Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 5/13/2016