Trying to ConceiveOnce you and your partner decide you’re ready to be parents, you probably want to get the baby show on the road right away. Many couples are surprised when it takes them six months or more, to conceive. After all, haven’t we spent most of our reproductive lives trying not to reproduce? For couples actively seeking pregnancy, the average time to conception, is about eight to nine months for couples where the woman is under age 35. If the woman is older, it can take even longer.
Though the female is the main contributing factor, don’t downplay the role of the male in this drama. You will after all, contribute half of your child’s chromosomes, and there are things you can do to increase both your chances of conception and your odds of having a healthy baby.
How it All WorksWithout getting deep into the mechanics of conception, let’s take a brief look at what’s involved in the story of Sperm Meets Egg.
Here is the summarized version. The male’s sperm must break through the female’s cervical mucus, travel the length of the uterus, and enter the fallopian tubes. Once in the fallopian tube, sperm must meet an egg, penetrate the egg’s protective coating and inner membrane, and finally, fertilize the egg.
When you take into account that the female releases only one egg per month or so, the sperm’s Herculean task makes your old problem of finding a Saturday night date look easy. In fact, human conception is a difficult and complex process, even under the best conditions. Your job then, is to get your sperm in tip–top shape, ready for the journey of a lifetime.
What to WatchYour reproductive system is only as healthy as the rest of your body. This means all the usual suspects need to go, recreational drugs like cocaine and marijuana and anabolic steroids can reduce sperm counts. While men don’t need to abstain from alcohol completely, heavy drinking, in the long run, can affect hormone levels and liver function, and affect conception. Toss the cigarettes too. Smoking not only affects sperm production, but can also have a negative impact on the developing fetus–and the baby after it’s born.
If you are significantly overweight, lose some body mass. If you are overweight, your body may produce an abundance of the female sex hormone or estrogen, leading to fertility problems. Besides, toxic chemicals and radiation can potentially damage sperm production, leaving a man incapable of fertilizing an egg, or permanently damaging his genetic material. The bottom line. when it comes to health, use common sense. If it’s bad for you, it’s most likely bad for your baby–to–be.
Hidden FactorsCommon sense will take you only so far, though. There are a few fertility factors of which you might be unaware. Extended use of saunas and hot tubs are contraindicated, as excessive heat can interfere with sperm production. Again, you don’t have to stay away completely, just limit your use.
Some medications can also affect reproductive ability. Certain antibiotics, antacids, and chemotherapeutic agents can reduce sperm counts, and some blood–pressure drugs can cause ejaculatory dysfunction. A call to your doctor or pharmacist can determine if any medications you’re taking may have unwanted side effects. Some men who know they are about to undergo chemotherapy elect to have their sperm frozen before the treatment regimen begins.
Too Much of Good ThingYou might think that one of the best things you can do to get in shape is to exercise. And when it comes to exercise, more is better, right? Well, it depends.
First, take a look at what types of exercise you’re doing. If you’re involved in a sport that puts your genitals at risk–such as soccer, rugby or football–make sure you wear proper protective gear. If you do get injured, seek medical attention immediately, as genital injuries can be very serious. There’s also evidence that other sports, such as bicycling, can curtail your sperm production.
Biological ClockIt’s true that the woman’s age affects the couple’s ability to conceive and the health of the baby to a greater extent than the male’s. Yemini notes that it’s much easier, physically speaking, for a male to be a father when he’s 60 than for a woman to become a mother later in life.
However, the man’s age is still a factor. In situations where a malformation is discovered via amniocentesis (a procedure where a portion of the amniotic fluid is analyzed for potential problems), approximately 20% of the time the problem can be attributed to the sperm. Amniocentesis tests are routinely recommended if the woman is over 35 years old. However, if the father is over 50 years of age, amniocentesis should be performed, regardless of the age of the mother.