Healthy sperm are vital for conception. In one third of infertility cases, a male factor is identified as the cause, with female factors and joint fertility issues making up the remaining percentage. 

Healthy sperm also play a key role during the pregnancy and in the health of the baby when it’s born.

So, if you and your partner are trying to conceive, now would be a good time to start looking at your lifestyle and seeing what you can do to increase your fertility. After all, new sperm are continually being created, so any positive changes made now, can actually make a big difference to your chances of conception, in just a matter of months. 

What constitutes healthy sperm?

Sperm health takes into account the quantity, movement and shape/structure of the sperm.

  • Sperm quantity – the number of sperm produced is important – each millilitre of semen should contain at least 15 million sperm
  • Sperm motility (movement) – not all sperm move, but for conception to occur, a large proportion of your sperm need to be mobile enough to move through the female’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes 
  • Sperm shape (structure) healthy sperm, with rounded heads and long, strong tails, are most likely to reach the egg

How can I improve the quality of my sperm?

Making positive changes to your lifestyle will increase your health, mental well-being and longevity, as well as helping with fertility. Here are some recommended ways to help increase your chances of conception:

  • Have a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) 
  • Eat healthy foods – choose fruit and vegetables (which are rich in antioxidants) whole grains, lean meats, nuts and unprocessed foods Look out for foods which contain B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, lycopene, zinc and selenium. 
  • Engage in light to moderate exercise regularly. Rigorous or prolonged periods of intense physical activity can have a detrimental effect on fertility.  
  • Reduce stress levels – stress can decrease sexual function and affect sperm production
  • Limit alcohol – alcohol can reduce testosterone production and can lead to impotence
  • Avoid smoking as it can affect your sperm count
  • Consider your work environment – make sure that you are well-protected from chemicals, including pesticides and other toxins. 
  • Contact your GP and check whether any medication that you are taking may have a negative impact on your fertility
  • Remain cool – the testes function most effectively when kept cooler than at body temperature, so avoid tight trousers and tight underwear and go for cotton rather than synthetic material when choosing clothes
  • Have regular intercourse – studies have shown that intercourse every few days throughout the month helps with sperm count and sperm health, whereas long periods of abstinence or more frequent ejaculation can have a negative impact 

It is important to talk to your GP or fertility specialist before making major changes to your diet or lifestyle. 

What if we still struggle to conceive?

A fertility specialist may be able to identify any causes of infertility with you and/or your partner and be able to recommend treatment for either or both of you. 

The good news is that many diagnosed male infertility problems, like retrograde ejaculation, varicoceles and blocked ducts, can be treated with drugs or surgery, enabling conception to take place through normal intercourse. 

If conception has failed to occur due to sperm quantity, quality or motility, then there are assisted reproductive techniques that can help. Even without ejaculation, sperm can be removed from the testicle, to make assisted reproduction possible. 

Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) include:

  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) where sperm is placed directly into the uterus via a tube, removing the need for sperm to have high motility
  • In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) where drugs are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs and then sperm is added directly to each egg in the lab.
  • Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) – a single sperm is injected into the egg with a needle.

At the IVF Network, our aim is to provide support and information for couples starting out on their fertility journey. We do this through the information on our website, in our blogs and on our dedicated channel, where experts speak on all aspects of fertility.