Fertility has long been considered a woman’s domain. Of course, everyone knows that it takes both egg and sperm to make a baby, but historically, it’s the female partner who gets the side eye when things don’t go according to plan. Here at Beli, we’re working hard to raise awareness of the important role men play in the baby-making equation, which brings us to today’s topic of men’s preconception health and specifically, sperm health. Knowing what you’re working with can save you a lot of time, but is at-home sperm testing considered an important part of men’s preconception health? Let’s break it down.
- A man’s preconception health has a direct influence on pregnancy outcomes and the health of their future children.
- For men, fertility health really comes down to sperm health, which is measured by specific parameters.
- External factors can influence sperm health, for the better and for the worse.
- At-home sperm tests can offer some insight into sperm count and mobility, so they can be a useful starting point.
- For a deep analysis into sperm health, you’ll need a sperm test with a qualified fertility specialist.
Understanding Men’s Preconception Health
When we talk about preconception health, we’re literally talking about the quality of a man’s fertility health in the weeks and months prior to a successful conception with a partner. A preconception health series published in the Lancet Journals emphasizes the pivotal role of health and nutrition in hopeful parents, calling it “important not only for pregnancy outcomes but also for the lifelong health of their children and even the next generation” (1). Clearly, this is a big deal, and health as a whole is often — though not always — a reflection of fertility health. For men in particular, much of fertility health boils down to sperm health, which is measured via specific parameters:
- Sperm quantity. This is the count and concentration of sperm in semen. A healthy male’s ejaculation has around 55 million sperm, and anything under 39 million qualifies as low sperm count. That’s not to say that a man with a low sperm count is unable to have children, or that a guy with excellent sperm count is going to have no problems getting his partner pregnant. The goal, however, is a robust sperm count.
- Sperm morphology. This is the shape and the size of the sperm. Well-formed sperm have oval heads and long tails, which streamlines them for movement. But there are a lot of funky sperm out there, and it’s the abnormal ones that are associated with lower fertility rates.
- Sperm motility. This is how well sperm move, which is key for a successful conception. If 40% of a man’s sperm are motile, he’s considered fertile.
The great news is that these parameters of sperm health can be influenced by external factors, which means specific lifestyle changes can actually have a positive effect. And no, we aren’t talking about limiting masturbation (a common misconception for improving male fertility). Things like what you eat, where you work, how you manage stress, how often you work out and what kind of workouts you do, whether you drink coffee, alcohol or use cannabis, how much sleep you get and even how much time you spend in a hot tub or sauna can have an impact on sperm health. The more you know, right? (For specific tips on improving your lifestyle for healthy sperm, check out our post on 11 easy ways to support male fertility.)
The Role of the At-Home Sperm Test
While women who are ready to become mothers can turn to their gynecologist for advice, men don’t often have the same kind of reproductive expert handy. Since there is value in having a baseline idea of sperm health, the at-home sperm test was born. These tests are designed to check for the presence of sperm in a semen sample, and some will even give you an idea of mobility. Remember that sperm health can vary so significantly over the course of just weeks, and an at-home sperm test may be a simple way of gauging whether any of the changes you’re making are paying off.
Clearly, at-home sperm tests have their appeal: convenience, privacy, ease of use, with results ready in just a few minutes. But they have their drawbacks, too. An at-home semen test is limited in terms of what it can tell you. While they’re generally accurate, you won’t get the same kind of detailed analysis available at a certified lab. At-home tests that you administer yourself typically test for semen volume, concentration and motility for a baseline idea of these parameters. If you’re experiencing fertility issues in these areas, these tests can be really helpful. But just because the results of an at-home sperm test are all in the normal range doesn’t guarantee an easy time conceiving, so that’s worth keeping in mind.
A Little Reminder
There are a few best practices for couples who are serious about conceiving. In addition to generally cleaning up their lifestyle to improve their general health, prenatal vitamins are recommended. For women, a prenatal vitamin covers any nutritional gaps and ensures you’re getting all the right nutrients, especially choline and folate, in the event you conceive earlier than you thought. So much critical development happens in the very earliest weeks, often before that pregnancy test reads positive, so starting prenatal vitamins early is really important.
For men, prenatal vitamins are just as key. Research shows that the most common cause of a sperm deficiency is a lack of specific nutrients and other lifestyle factors (2). A prenatal vitamin like Beli Vitality for Men™ is formulated with beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support fertility health. And there’s the unexpected benefit to a men’s prenatal vitamin, too. It’s a small daily show of support that lets your partner know this is a journey you’re on together, and a positive mindset is one of the five pillars of fertility, after all!
The Bottom Line
It warms our hearts to know that more and more men are taking preconception health seriously. At the end of the day, conception is a numbers game. The more sperm you’re playing with — and the healthier those sperm are — the greater the chances of success. While an at-home fertility test isn’t mandatory, it may be a useful first step for couples who are really interested in getting all their ducks in a row. It can’t be considered a replacement for an evaluation with a qualified fertility expert, but it does give you a general idea of sperm count and motility.
- Preconception Health. The Lancet. (2018). https://www.thelancet.com/series/preconception-health
- Skoracka, K et al. (2020). Diet and nutritional factors in male (in)fertility—underestimated factors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7291266/