If it’s taking a little too long to get pregnant, some couples may opt for a semen analysis. It’s full of useful information about a man’s sperm quality, including sperm count. This is the concentration of sperm in a semen sample. As you’d imagine, low or abnormal sperm count can be a sign of an underlying health condition, and that’s something you’ll want to resolve if the plan is a baby. So, what is a normal sperm count? In this post, we’re telling you everything you need to know about normal sperm counts, why it’s not the only parameter of sperm health you need to know, and 5 tips for improving sperm quality.
- A normal sperm count is between 40 and 300 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
- It’s possible to become pregnant with sperm counts as low as 20 million sperm per milliliter, assuming they’re healthy.
- For interventions like IUI and IVF, optimal sperm counts are generally north of 5 to 10 million per milliliter.
- A number of things can lead to low sperm count, including age, past medical issues, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices.
- It’s possible to increase sperm count with healthy habits, including exercise, stress management, proper nutrition, and supplementation.
What’s a Normal Sperm Count?
Normal sperm count can range between 40 million sperm to more than 300 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Low sperm count, aka oligospermia (1), is anything between 10 and 20 million sperm per milliliter. In some cases, 20 million sperm per milliliter—assuming they’re healthy—can be enough for a successful conception. A few notes:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI) can be effective for some couples experiencing sperm quality issues—specifically, the count of motile sperm. Generally, a total motile sperm count greater than 10 million is optimal. According to one study (2), pregnancy rates decline as motile sperm count decreases (no surprise there!). Typically a total motile sperm count below 1 to 5 million means a low chance of success.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) typically requires a minimum sperm count of at least 5 million sperm per milliliter of semen. That number varies depending on the clinic and specific circumstances.
Keep in mind that sperm count is just one parameter of overall sperm health, which is also measured by motility (how sperm move) and morphology (how sperm are shaped). Improving sperm quality as a whole should really be the focus.
What Causes Low Sperm Count?
It’s a good question! Turns out, sperm are pretty temperamental little buggers, and their numbers are directly affected by all sorts of things. That includes:
- Previous medical problems
- Environmental factors
- Lifestyle habits, including poor nutrition, the use of recreational drugs, alcohol, lack of exercise, high stress levels and insufficient sleep
That last factor means that a man’s sperm count isn’t a fixed number. Multiple studies (3) have looked at the effects of healthy lifestyle interventions, such as diet and moderate exercise, on sperm quality. Again and again, research (4) shows that semen quality can indeed be improved when men embrace healthy habits.
Wondering how that works? You may already know that men produce millions of sperm every single day. But every single one of them has to navigate a critical maturation process, which takes roughly three months. It’s called spermatogenesis. It’s a three-stage process during which sperm cells divide, mature, and become mobile. One of the biggest culprits of sperm deficiencies, including low sperm count, is a nutrient shortage (5) during this process. That’s why a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin, paired with healthy lifestyle habits, can help support healthier sperm counts.
5 Ways to Improve Sperm Count
Some cases of low sperm count require surgical or medical interventions. For example, if you have an obstructed vas deferens (sperm duct in plain English), surgery is generally recommended. Bacterial infections can also affect sperm count, in which case a course of antibiotics can do the trick. But if your lifestyle could benefit from less beer, more vegetables and some consistent exercise, embracing healthy habits is an actionable way to bring about meaningful change to your sperm count—for the better. Here’s what to prioritize.
- Start taking a men’s prenatal vitamin. Supplementation with specific nutrients is a simple way to support and optimize sperm health, including sperm count. In Beli Vitality for Men, we handpicked all 14 ingredients for their clinically proven roles in supporting sperm health. For sperm count specifically, our formula includes L-Carnitine, which helps improve low sperm concentration. Research (6) shows that low carnitine levels are associated with decreased sperm count and poor sperm motility.
- Lose weight. According to research (7), being obese or overweight reduces sperm quality and actually has a detrimental impact on metabolic and reproductive health of future offspring. Weight management requires a healthy, nutrient-rich diet and regular exercise, but don’t overdo it. Moderate exercise performed consistently likely increases sperm count by increasing blood flow, which circulates fresh oxygen. But high-intensity workouts, like cycling, running and high-altitude mountaineering, can negatively impact a man’s libido and sperm quality.
- Find healthy outlets for stress. Stress is all too common in this day and age, but it’s a problem for sperm. High stress levels affect male fertility by decreasing testosterone and sperm count. Finding healthy ways to manage daily stressors, like a relaxing hobby, guided meditation or exercise, is important.
- Curb the booze. Heavy drinking has a huge effect on male fertility and sperm health, and cutting way back is one of the best ways to increase your chances of pregnancy.
- Get sufficient sleep. Sleep is the foundation of our health, but for many of us, it’s the first thing that goes when life gets busy. When you’re taking steps to promote sperm count, that’s a problem. Studies have drawn a very clear link between insufficient sleep duration and late bedtimes on sperm health, so make sure you’re getting a solid eight hours!
The Bottom Line
Sperm count is just one parameter of overall sperm health, and taking steps to support sperm health as a whole means you’re covering all of the bases. In many cases, boosting low sperm count can be as simple as embracing habits that improve your general health. Try pairing stress management, a good diet, regular exercise, and plenty of shut-eye with a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin, and see what happens.
Holland K. (2018). Oligospermia and fertility: what you should know. https://www.healthline.com/health/mens-health/oligospermia
Fertility and sterility. (2019). https://www.fertstert.org/pb/assets/raw/Health%20Advance/journals/fns/suppl.pdf
Ilacqua A et al. (2018). LIfestyle and fertility: the influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6260894/
Montano L et al. (2022). Effects of a lifestyle change intervention on semen quality in healthy young men living in highly polluted areas of Italy: the FASt randomized controlled study. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2405456921000419
Skoracka K et al. (2020). Diet and nutritional factors in male infertility—underestimated factors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7291266/
Ahmed S et al. (2011). Role of L-carnitine in male infertility. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22355991/
Palmer N et al. (2012). Impact of obesity on male fertility, sperm function and molecular composition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3521747/
Liu, M et al (2017). Sleep Deprivation and Late Bedtime Impair Sperm Health Through Increasing Antisperm Antibody Production: A Prospective Study of 981 Healthy Men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5402839/