Male infertility? Let’s talk about it
As young people we are told to be careful about having unprotected sex as it will surely result in you having a baby and your life being ruined. Not to say this isn’t necessarily true but as you get older you realise that having a healthy child with no complications through the conception, pregnancy and birth is actually more difficult than we are made to think.
Many of the couples I know have had some kind of issues in starting and raising a family, whether that be difficulties conceiving, issues during pregnancy or complications during the birth; it’s really not as simple as the 16 year old me thought!
For me and my wife, our journey from conception and throughout pregnancy was actually quite smooth, it was the birth that was a life changing incident for us. But for many couples, these life changing experiences often occur a lot earlier on in their journey, right at the beginning actually.
How common is male infertility?
And often, when we think about fertility issues, we naturally think about the woman. But one in five (or 20%) of infertility cases, it’s actually the man who needs to seek medical attention. And how often do we talk about this? Not very often at all! It’s an issue that’s more common than we think but as men often do, we don’t talk about it.
I thought it would be good to start with the basics and find out more about the causes and treatments in relation to male infertility. To do this I had to speak to a professional. And who better than one of the leaders in this area; Associate Professor in Reproductive Medicine and co-author of UK’s highest selling textbook in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Tim Child. Tim is also the Medical Director at Oxford Fertility and an all-round very clever guy.
Most of you will already be fathers but interestingly, 25% of couples that Tim sees at the Oxford Fertility clinic already have at least one child, so we need to be aware that infertility issues can occur even if you’ve conceived naturally in the past.
I spoke to Tim about the causes of male fertility and what can be done about it. We had a fascinating conversation.
What are the causes of male infertility?
Where the causes of female infertility can be quite easily diagnosed, no one really knows the exact causes of male infertility. However, there are a few things that we know can have an effect. The first thing is infertility can be inherited so if your dad or grandad had infertility issues, there’s a chance you might too. The second thing is chance. Good old pot luck. Life aye?
But the third area, and one that we do actually have some control over, is lifestyle. A good healthy lifestyle is so important for our general wellbeing so there’s no real surprise that a bad lifestyle can affect your fertility. And when we talk about lifestyle, there are a few major areas that are really important:
- Keeping to a healthy weight; people who are obese are more likely to have infertility issues
- Smoking; it’s bad for the body and so expensive now too!
- Recreational drugs; not too be too judgemental but yeh, probably best not to indulge
- Body building steroids; can have a big negative impact on infertility
These are all things that we all have control over and should be managing anyway, but raising awareness of the impacts on male infertility can only be a good thing.
When should you be tested for infertility?
If you’ve been trying for a baby between 6-12 months with no luck it would be a good time to see your doctor for both you and your partner to have some tests. Usually the woman will be tested first and if no issues are found a simple sperm test can determine if there are any issues with the man. The sperm test will look for:
- Low sperm count – Your sperm count is considered lower than normal if you have fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen
- Low motility – 33% of the sperm should be alive and rearing to go
- Low volume – 1.5 mils is the normal amount of ejaculation
What treatments are available to help you start a family?
There’s not many drugs that men can take to improve infertility. Tim and other doctors will usually focus on lifestyle changes coupled with medical procedures such as IVF. IVF is a procedure where the sperm is manually injected into the egg. The success rate depends on the woman’s age. There’s a 35-40% chance of each round of IVF working for women under 35. For women over 40 this drops to 25% per cycle.
An average round of IVF can costs between £5k – 7K and most clinics will offer payment options to help manage the cost
All this can sound a bit grim but I think it’s really important to reassure you that less than 5% of men who have infertility issues will be unable to have a child through IVF, so there’s a good chance that any issues can be resolved!
If you are concerned about your fertility and would like to speak to someone for advice, please contact Oxford Fertility.
Written by Elliott Rae