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Having a Baby: The Man's Role


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 six 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.

Toss the cigarettes too. Smoking not only affects sperm production, but can also affect the quality of the sperm. Quitting now also creates a healthier environment for the child in your future.

If you are significantly overweight, lose some body mass. Male obesity can affect sperm concentration.

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.

Hidden Factors

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.

RESOURCES:

American Society for Reproductive Medicine
http://www.asrm.org

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association
http://www.resolve.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Men's Health Centre
http://www.menshealthcentre.net

SexualityandU—The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
http://www.sexualityandu.ca/

References:

Erectile dysfunction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 25, 2012. Accessed August 23, 2012.

A father's guide to pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq032.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120823T0536349842. Accessed August 23, 2012.

Infertility. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 20, 2012. Accessed August 23, 2012.

Leibovitch I, Mor Y. The vicious cycling: bicycling related urogenital disorders. Eur Urol. 2005 Mar;47(3):277-86.

Understanding male fertility: What every man needs to know before trying to conceive. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/gettingpregnant/PEMalefertility.html. Updated October 2007. Accessed August 23, 2012.

Zhu Jl, Madsen KM, Vestergaard M, et al. Paternal age and congenital malformations. Hum Reprod. 2005 Nov;20(11):3173–7.



Last reviewed August 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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