It’s no surprise that most fertility studies look at what women need to do to improve their chances of having a healthy baby, and despite most of us knowing better, new research has found the majority of women still consume alcohol and caffeine when trying to fall pregnant.
But it takes two to have a baby – and what men do when they’re trying to become a father is also crucial in the quest for parenthood.
The new research from pregnancy charity Tommy’s found more than half of women drank alcohol and four-fifths consumed caffeine while planning pregnancy.
Another one in five women smoked and one in 25 took drugs, with even higher rates among the under-25s.
The study didn’t look at men’s fertility, but Tommy’s stresses that for men who want to become fathers, leading a healthy lifestyle is very important, as it can affect the quality of their sperm, and thus the chances of conception and the future health of their baby.
“There’s a lot of attention on how maternal health and wellbeing can affect babies’ development, but when a couple is planning a pregnancy, it’s important dads are healthy too – not just for their own fertility, but the long-term future of their family, as parents’ health when they get pregnant can affect their children’s DNA,” explains Tommy’s midwife Sophie King.
“Small changes can really make a big difference to the long-term health of parents and babies,” she adds.
And Dr Raj Mathur, chair of the British Fertility Society, stresses: “We know from research that the lifestyle of the potential father is also very important in terms of the chance of conceiving and pregnancy outcome.
Men who are planning to have a baby with their partners should take the opportunity to improve their health and address their lifestyle, including factors such as weight, moderate regular exercise, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake and following a healthy balanced diet.”
So, what do men who want to become fathers need to do to improve their chances?
1. Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol can affect both male and female fertility, and Tommy’s says drinking too much booze can lead to low sperm quality and quantity, as well as reduced testosterone levels and even a loss of interest in sex.
Men who are trying for a baby are advised to cut down their alcohol intake and drink no more than the maximum recommended limit of 14 units per week, spreading their drinking evenly over three days or more.
2. Reduce caffeine
Evidence suggests that men consuming too much caffeine when they’re trying to conceive can increase the risk of their partner having a miscarriage.
It’s the same for women, so Tommy’s suggests couples trying for a baby should limit their caffeine intake to 200mg a day (around two mugs of instant coffee or one mug of filter coffee).
3. Don’t smoke
Smoking can reduce the quality of a man’s sperm, causing a lower sperm count, and affecting the sperm’s ability to swim.
It’s even linked to sexual impotence (inability to get or maintain an erection), explains Tommy’s.
Plus, a woman inhaling cigarette smoke through passive smoking can damage her ability to get pregnant – and just opening windows and doors won’t help, stresses the charity.
4. Keep your testicles cool
The NHS says that to produce the best quality sperm, a man’s testicles need to be slightly cooler than the rest of his body.
That sounds hard, but there are a few simple measures you can take to keep cooler down there, for example wearing loose-fitting underwear like boxer shorts, and if you work in a hot environment, taking regular breaks outside.
Additionally, if you sit at a desk for long periods, try to get up and move around regularly.
King also advises: “Men trying for a baby should avoid saunas and hot baths, and not sit still for long periods or have a warm laptop on their lap.”
5. Maintain a healthy weight
While the new Tommy’s research found more than half of women who were trying to get pregnant who reported their weight had a high BMI, which can reduce the chances of getting pregnant and increase the risk of pregnancy complications, men being overweight or obese can also negatively impact fertility, as it can affect the quality and quantity of their sperm, says Tommy’s.
6. Eat a healthy diet
If your partner’s trying to be healthy to help aid pregnancy, why not join her? And make sure you’re getting your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as Tommy’s says research shows sperm quality is affected by diet.
In addition, it could be worth eating a portion of walnuts a day, as they’ve been shown to help sperm motility (ability to swim).
“Sperm health can be improved with a balanced diet and regular exercise,” stresses King.
“Eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and walnuts has been shown to improve male fertility; red and processed meat, caffeine, saturated fatty acids and trans fats can cause problems.”