Meet the Expert: Dr. Darren Bryk, AKA the sperm whisperer, is a urologist at the University of Virginia Urology Center, with a special interest in male factor infertility and men’s health. He medically reviewed each post in our three-part "It Starts With the Sperm" mini-series.
June is Men’s Health Awareness Month, and it’s a cause the Beli team absolutely gets behind. Around here, we’re all about educating prospective parents about the pivotal role sperm plays in the whole baby-making equation. The truth is, it all starts—and ends—with the sperm. In this three-part mini series, we’re covering all the ways sperm seals the deal for a healthy conception, pregnancy and baby, with a deep dive into three key functions. First up is how a man’s sperm affects placental development. Spoiler: those little swimmers are carrying what amounts to the architect’s rendering of the placenta, so it’s no small thing!
The Placenta: The Least Understood Organ
You’ll recall that the placenta is the fascinating organ that develops during pregnancy to connect the umbilical cord and the uterus. Give this thing props—it’s the vehicle that delivers nutrients and oxygen to a developing baby and whisks away waste. Without a healthy placenta, a pregnancy is fraught with complications, from poor fetal growth to preeclampsia to stillbirth. While there are a few things that can affect the health of the placenta during pregnancy, including maternal age, water breaking prior to labor, high blood pressure, carrying twins or multiples, certain blood-clotting disorders, and substance use, another factor precedes them all. Yes, we’re talking about healthy sperm.
How Does Sperm Influence the Placenta?
A father’s fertility health, and specifically the health of his sperm, is wildly important for so many reasons. One of them is the fact that sperm delivers the DNA blueprint used to create the placenta that will nourish a growing baby throughout the course of his partner’s pregnancy. Let’s break it down.
Shortly after a successful fertilization, placental development begins right alongside the embryo. That amazing organ—the bridge between mom and baby—is grown according to blueprints from the father. Research (1) has confirmed that paternal genes dominate in the placenta. As lead author Dr. Xu Wang put it, “Mouse experiments showed that if all DNA comes from the mother, only the embryo grows, suggesting some degree of sex-based division of labor between programming the placenta and the embryo.”
So, what happens when that blueprint comes from damaged sperm? It’s problematic, to say the least. As a man’s fertility health decreases, the likelihood of oxidative damage to sperm DNA ticks up, bringing with it risks of poor semen quality and infertility issues. That means a lower likelihood of conception, and a detrimental impact on the health of a pregnancy in the event conception occurs.
The Bottom Line
We’ve said it before and we'll say it again—sperm health matters. A man’s preconception health (2) directly affects conception, his partner’s pregnancy, the health of their baby, even the health of the next generation. Taking steps to prioritize a man’s fertility health in the three to six months before a target conception date can set him and his partner up for success on the path to parenthood. Fortunately, all of the habits that support a healthy lifestyle can support sperm health. Pair a good diet, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and healthy stress management with a men’s prenatal vitamin formulated with nutrients shown to nourish sperm during the maturation process, and you can be confident that you’re doing everything in your power to start things off on the right foot.
Stay tuned for the next in our “It Starts With the Sperm” mini-series with Dr. Bryk: Egg-Sperm Fusion!
Wang, X et al. (2013). Paternally expressed genes predominate in the placenta. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3696791/
Preconception health. (2018). https://www.thelancet.com/series/preconception-health