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Preconception health for men

9-minute read

Key facts

  • It's important to get as healthy and fit as possible before you start trying for a baby.
  • Factors that can make it harder to conceive a baby are older age, unhealthy weight, smoking, some medicines, and chemical exposure.
  • Keep your testicles cool to help make sure you have plenty of healthy sperm.
  • About half of infertility cases are from a problem that the male has, so it's a good idea to have a general medical check-up before you try for a baby.
  • If you need to have cancer treatment, there are ways to preserve your fertility, like freezing sperm or tiny parts of the tissue from your testicles.

How can I improve my fertility?

Being as healthy and fit as you can be during the preconception period (the time before pregnancy) can help improve your fertility and the health of the baby.

There are simple steps you can take to help ensure you're as healthy and fit as possible during the preconception period:

  • start trying before the age of 40 years, if possible
  • be in a healthy weight range
  • quit smoking
  • cut back on alcohol
  • avoid exposure to some chemicals

You should also void using recreational drugs. Cannabis, cocaine and anabolic steroids are all known to reduce sperm quality.

Does age affect male fertility?

Males can make sperm into their 70s and beyond, but the quality of the sperm declines as you get older.

Males over the age of 40 years have fewer healthy sperm than younger males. If you are 45 years or older, your partner may take longer to fall pregnant and is at higher risk of miscarriage.

Older males are at slightly higher risk of having a baby with health problems, compared with younger males.

Of course, you can't control your age — but if you are older and thinking about conceiving, start trying as soon as possible.

Why does preconception health matter for males?

About half of infertility cases are due to a problem that the male has, so it's a good idea to have a general medical check-up before you try for a baby.

Talk to your doctor about any tests you might need, and whether you should avoid any medicines you might already be taking.

You have a better chance of conceiving if you have healthy sperm. The best way to make sure you have plenty of healthy sperm is to keep your testicles cool since heat affects your testicles' ability to make sperm.

For a few months before you want to conceive, you can help keep your testicles cool by wearing loose-fitting underwear such as boxer shorts. If you sit for long stretches of time, it's a good idea to get up and move around regularly.

Your health

If you are planning on having a baby, check if you have any sexually transmitted infection (STIs), as they can lead to infertility. Having a test before conception can reduce the risk of passing on an infection to a partner.

If you have a medical condition such as cancer, talk to your doctor if you think you'll want a baby in the future. There are ways to preserve your fertility, like freezing sperm or tiny parts of the tissue from your testicles. Your doctor needs to know about your wishes before cancer treatment starts.

Complementary and alternative medicines

Complementary and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, herbal medicines, and massage, might improve your general wellbeing, but there is little evidence that they help boost your fertility.

It's always best to talk with your doctor before embarking on any complementary or alternative treatments.

How should I prepare for a healthy pregnancy?

Being a healthy weight increases your chance of conceiving a healthy baby.

Being overweight:

  • affects the quality of your sperm
  • reduces your sex drive
  • can make it more difficult to keep an erection

Being underweight can also make it harder for you to conceive.

Diet

The best way of achieving a healthy weight is to eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly. If you are overweight or obese, even losing just a few kilos will help. You and your partner should encourage each other to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and aim for a variety of healthy foods every day and fewer foods with added salt, sugar and fat. The Mediterranean diet is an example of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Physical activity

Each day, try to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or vigorous intensity physical activity. Examples of this can be a brisk walk or jogging. Simply sitting less and moving more will help.

Find easy ways to build physical activity into your lifestyle from the Department of Health's website.

What things should I avoid?

Smoking

There is no safe limit for smoking. If you are trying to have a baby, it's important to quit at least 3 months before you start trying for a baby.

Smoking can affect your erections. Smoking also damages the DNA in your sperm.

Smoking more than 1 pack of cigarettes a day increases the risk of your baby developing leukaemia.

For help quitting, contact Quitline on 13 7848.

Alcohol and caffeine

Heavy drinking:

  • affects your sex drive
  • makes it hard to keep an erection
  • affects the quality of your sperm

You don't have to give up alcohol — just cut down and keep your intake within safe limits.

There's no evidence that consuming caffeine (like coffee) will affect your chance of conceiving.

Medicines

Some medicines can lower your fertility or sexual function. Your doctor will let you know if it's okay to keep taking your medicines. They can also advise you about complementary treatments and any vitamins or supplements that you take.

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can affect your fertility.

Don't stop your regular medicines without first checking with your doctor.

Steroids

Taking anabolic steroids can stop you from making sperm. They can shrink your testicles, and affect your erection and your sex drive.

It can take up to 2 years after stopping anabolic steroids for your sperm to be healthy again.

Drugs

Avoid all recreational drugs like cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and marijuana as these can affect your fertility or sexual function.

Chemicals

Some common chemicals and substances, both at work and in daily life, can affect your sperm. These include:

  • pesticides
  • heavy metals
  • some chemicals and plastics
  • radiation

Try to limit your exposure to these and wear protective clothing if you are trying for a baby.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are all around us. Some are found in plastic products and can leach into your food or be absorbed through your skin. One of most well-known of these is BPA — often found in soft plastics. Some EDCs are used as preservatives in foods and personal care products.

EDCs interfere with your body and can:

  • lead to changes in your hormones
  • lower your sperm count
  • damage the DNA in your sperm
  • increase the chance of a miscarriage

It's impossible to completely avoid EDCs but there are some things you can do to lower your exposure to them:

House and garden

  • open windows to bring fresh air into your home
  • try to replace detergents, cleaning products, and carpet cleaners or strong chemicals like glues, paints, and varnishes with 'green products' which contain non-toxic agents
  • avoid air fresheners, strong chemicals, plastic smells and fumes
  • avoid pesticides and herbicides in the garden try using 'green chemicals' to reduce pests and weeds

Cosmetics

  • read the labels on cosmetics and choose products that don't have parabens
  • try to avoid using heavily perfumed products
  • some products that are advertised as 'BPA free' are often replaced with chemicals such as BPS which can be just as harmful as BPA

Food

  • wash fruit and vegetables to remove chemicals that may have been sprayed on them
  • read food labels and avoid those with additives and preservatives
  • eat fewer canned and pre-packaged foods to avoid chemicals from plastic wrapping and the plastic linings of cans
  • limit the amount of oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and fatty meats you eat
  • try not to use soft plastic drink bottles as the chemicals can get into your drinks
  • heat food in a china or glass bowl and cover it with paper towel or a plate

Resources and support

Your Fertility has information about male and female fertility, and Healthy Male has information on men's health and fertility.

To find out more about preconception health for women visit the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby webpage.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023


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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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