The MANual: Men’s Preconception Health

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We all know that there are many components to the timeline of a pregnancy, with medicinal and nutritional aspects in the pre-conception and gestational stages being very important to the health of a developing baby. But while a lot of the focus is upon the health of the female who is carrying the child, it is just as important that the male stays as healthy as possible during these stages, too.

Common changes to improve preconception health

Preconception health is an important part of the pregnancy process!

There are several adaptations that a male can undertake that will likely improve the quality of sperm for conception. Many of these are quite simple, everyday changes that can be achieved without any extra thought or work. However, some may take more willpower to achieve, and so may require some extra help from medical experts.

Common everyday changes to be made to improve pre-conception health in men can include:

  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothing around the groin, as sperm production can be inhibited through such clothing choices [1]. This can also be extended to wearing boxer shorts, instead of briefs [1].
  • Similarly, avoiding situations such as excessive cycling, where pressure is constantly placed near the groin area.
  • Avoiding situations where the body is placed near extreme heat – for example, continual use of a sauna, or resting a laptop on the lap for extended periods of time. This is because the composition of semen can be affected negatively following extreme heat exposure [2].

Greater changes to improve pre-conception health

While the everyday changes are relatively simple to implement, other changes that affect diet and lifestyle may be more complex, hence requiring medical interventions. Some of the more commonly seen required changes include:

  • Avoiding workplace hazards
  • Decreasing alcohol consumption and tobacco use
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle
  • Keeping stress to a minimum and maintaining constant medical check-ups with which to keep track of health progress.

Workplace hazards and fertility

There are many workplace substances and chemicals that can affect sperm production and quality, so male partners may need to consider whether these hazards apply to their working space. Typical workplaces affected by such hazards are usually industrial or laboratory-based, but can be relevant to other workplaces, too. In saying this, however, such hazards will normally be identified and labelled as such, so a simple check of a safety manual, or a talk with a supervisor, should ensure such hazards are avoided completely.

Tobacco and alcohol use and fertility

Tobacco and alcohol use in all stages of pregnancy is strongly discouraged, for each biological sex. While the risks of such lifestyle choices are quite commonly talked about for females carrying a baby, or in the pre-conception stage, they are often overlooked when considering males. This is obviously problematic, as consumption of alcohol has been linked to abnormal and defective sperm, while continued exposure to cigarette smoke is associated with lowered sperm count [3].

Diet and fertility

Overweight and obese men are more commonly observed to have fertility issues, when compared to men within a healthy weight range [4]. As a result, a balanced diet and exercise program are both important aspects of pre-conception [5]. From a biochemical point-of-view, regular exercise is particularly important, as it stimulates testosterone production, and this will, in turn, trigger greater sperm production [6].

Stress and fertility

Stress is among the most common of factors in issues with male fertility, as it is ever-present in day-to-day life, and often unavoidable. The reason why stress is such an issue is because it stimulates the release of cortisol, a hormone that tends to interfere with testosterone and, hence, sperm production [7]. So, while difficult, it is important to look after oneself and minimize stress, where possible. Setting aside time to relax, when possible, as well as maintaining reasonable sleep patterns, can be options to minimizing stress.

Male fertility check-up?

While all the topics mentioned here are reasonably manageable, there are times where medical advice may be needed, to obtain the best results in maintaining reproductive potential. As such, it is always a good idea to consult medical professionals throughout the pre-conception stage, and particularly when some aspects are more difficult to manage. Advice on better diet and exercise, abstaining from harmful lifestyle factors and decreasing stress levels can always be sought, and medical interventions are always available to those that may require them.

References

  1. Sanger et al. Reprod Toxicol. 1990;4(3):229-32.
  2. Hamerezaee et al. Safety and Health at Work, Volume 9, Issue 2, 2018, Pages 232-235, ISSN 2093-7911.
  3. Joo et al. J Int Med Res. 2012;40(6):2327-35.
  4. Palmer et al. Spermatogenesis. 2012 Oct 1;2(4):253-263.
  5. Hieronimus et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2021 Jun 15.
  6. Vingren et al. Sports Med. 2010 Dec 1;40(12):1037-53.
  7. Shukla et al. Contraception. 2008; 78 :p. 194.

 

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