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Trying to get pregnant is one of the most joyous and complicated times that a couple can spend together in their relationship. Much emphasis is placed on the woman's cycle, diet, exercise and overall health. But what about the man? Are there things he can do to help increase the chances of conception? Here are a few tips to make sure that you are performing at your optimal delivery.
Male reproductive system
Before understanding the best practices for getting pregnant, it's important to first understand the male's role in the creation of sperm and the fertilizing of the egg. The male reproductive system includes the testicles, which produce testosterone and sperm. It takes roughly 72 days for sperm to be created, and sperm are stored in the epididymis (the outer structure of the testicles) for anywhere from 15 to 25 days. Here, the sperm mature and develop the ability to swim.
When a male ejaculates through the penis, the sperm move through the vas deferens tubes, and the liquid for "swimming" is provided by the seminal vesicles and prostate gland. The sperm then move through the woman's cervix, into the uterus and up into the fallopian tubes. If an egg is present, it is fertilized there, where it moves down to the uterus and continues to grow. [Related: Trying to Conceive | How to Get Pregnant]
Step 1: Get healthy
First things first, get a checkup from your doctor. There are a number of conditions that affect male fertility. For example, varicoceles, or varicose veins on the scrotum, can lead to a low sperm count and malformed sperm. Other conditions, such as an inflamed prostate or the mumps, can lead to infertility in men as well.
Weight also affects fertility in men. For men with extra pounds, their bodies convert testosterone in estradiol, which is a version of estrogen. This is especially true of those who carry their weight around their midsections. Weight problems can also lead to libido and sexual performance issues, which obviously obstruct the ability to get pregnant. The odds of infertility increase by 10 percent for every 20 pounds of excess weight.
Boost your nutrition intake — poor nutrition can affect the quality and quantity of sperm. Men (as well as women) should consume extra folate when trying to conceive. In women, low levels of folic acid increase the risk of neural tube birth defects, while in men, low levels of folic acid can cause low sperm counts. Take a supplement daily, or try to get it naturally from leafy greens, legumes, or orange juice.
Zinc is another mineral that should be in a man's diet when trying to conceive. Even short-term zinc deficiencies can reduce testosterone levels and semen volume. Studies also show that zinc is needed to help the body absorb and metabolize folic acid, which is mentioned above. Vitamin E and C are also necessary for high sperm count, but too much can affect the sperm's DNA.
Consult with your doctor to create a healthy diet and exercise regimen that will help you get to a healthy weight and be as best prepared as possible to conceive.
Time to give up the party life
If you're a smoker, kick those cigarettes to the curb. Smoking lowers a man's sperm count, and studies show that second-hand smoke can affect a woman's fertility. Every cigarette smoked lowers the chance of her getting pregnant. The woman should also quit smoking, as smoking while pregnant can cause birth complications. And don't pick up the pack again after she gets pregnant — second-hand smoke is dangerous for your children in utero and after birth. This goes for all tobacco — chewing tobacco has also been linked to poor sperm function.
In addition to giving up smoking, alcohol intake should also be reduced. Alcohol can cause a lowered sperm count, and a connection has been made between fathers who drink and low birth weight. While you may not need to give it up entirely, you should try to reduce your alcohol intake to no more than one to two drinks per day. It goes without saying that you should also avoid recreational drugs. If you are on prescription medication, talk to your doctor about how it may affect your fertility.
Check your environment
Chemicals in the workplace can pose a serious hazard to your sperm. Auto shops and dry cleaners often stock organic solvents, for example, which can alter sperm composition and count. Pesticides and other chemicals have been linked to birth defects and premature delivery. These chemicals can affect male reproductive health in a number of ways, including sperm count (a low count means lesser chance of pregnancy), sperm shape (can cause trouble swimming or unable to fertilize the egg), sperm transfer, (may kill the sperm or the chemicals may attach to the sperm and affect egg production), and sexual performance.
It takes three months for sperm to develop and mature, so limit your exposure to these chemicals at least three months before attempting to conceive.
If you are concerned about chemicals in the workplace, ask your employer for a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which should detail any and all chemical exposure at your place of employment. The Center for Disease Control also offers information on avoiding workplace hazards like chemicals or radiation, which may affect reproductive health.
In addition to the workplace, there are a number of other environmental factors that can affect fertility. Underwear, for example, should be comfortable and allow enough air to cool your testicles. Tight briefs don't allow air to circulate, so consider switching to boxers. Hot tubs and saunas can also cause the same problem, as the testicles need to stay cool and heat kills sperm.
Using a laptop? Same principle applies — the heat from the laptop can cause sperm production issues. Use a laptop cooling pad, or use the laptop on a desk instead of resting it on the lap.