Let's not forget that it takes two to make a healthy baby, writes Amanda Cassidy
Apart from the obvious, men have a crucial role to play in producing a successful pregnancy. A variety of factors from genetics and lifestyle to environmental exposures and hormones can affect a man's fertility.
There are many steps men can take to enhance their health and to increase a couple's chances of conceiving. But preparing to have a baby is often overlooked by couples, according to a specialist fertility coach. Helena Tubridy, who trained as a midwife, reflexologist and psychotherapist, offers guidance to both men and women when it comes to pre-conception plans.
"The biggest mistake people make is to think that if they are having difficulty conceiving they can just go down the IVF route and guarantee a healthy pregnancy. It isn't a silver bullet."
"There are physical and emotional preparations that the couple can make in their lives to boost their chances. Men, in particular, are very sensitive to environmental factors and stress."
Little changes, big impact
Helena, who also completed her MA in Ethics at DCU, believes that taking the time to make life changes in the months and years leading up to pregnancy can spare a great deal of heartache and cash. She says we need to remember that men are 50% of the equation when it comes to producing a healthy child. She even focused on male fertility for her thesis.
"Sperm is hugely sensitive to environmental influences - that means chemicals in the air like air fresheners and deodorants can have a negative impact on male fertility. Be mindful that we live in an agricultural country with spray pesticides, so certain times of the year the air quality might not be great.
"Cycling might be a nifty way to get to work, but its best kept for the weekend if you are trying for a baby.
"Not only are you breathing in pollution in traffic, but the sweaty lycra pressed up against the saddle every day is not doing wonders for your little swimmers."
Eating well in the run-up to conception is recommended as well as cutting back on alcohol and staying active. "Move around, try a standing desk, wear loose trousers, don't be too hot in bed at night. It really does make a big difference. I'm a big fan of a kilt," says Helena.
Impact of sleep
"Men getting less than six hours sleep have more chance of DNA fragmentation," she explains.
"It might sound like a lot of preparation, but the IVF journey can be a long and distressing road so making these changes now can help in the long run."
And then there are the things we don't think about - the amounts of medication we are on - painkillers, antibiotics, anti-depressants, recreational drugs, e-cigarettes - it all adds up and can, in mass, have an impact on fertility. Helena says that not only do men have to take responsibility for helping to cultivate the healthiest sperm they can, but they also have a big part to play when it comes to female hormone production.
"Human's are not actually that fertile. Many couples are in a relationship for a long time before they decide to have children. Sex can fall into a once a week thing.
When it comes to having a baby, couples need a generous 3-4 times a week of really good, fun sex. Not duty sex.
"I've heard it said to me that having too much can dilute the sperm, but that is nonsense - frequent sex can increase the production of sperm. But here's the thing - a great lover helps hormone production in women. I'm talking multiple orgasms, with no need for lubricant."
"Proper stimulation and the enjoyment of sex is really important when it comes to fertility," she says.
Sexual health really matters too. Both men and women should be getting regular STI check-ups. Chlamydia is invisible and getting it properly treated prevents scarring of the fallopian tubes for women. If you do end up going for fertility treatment, men have a big part to play here too - ask questions, learning how to do the injections, keep everyone's spirits up. Helena points out that miscarriage or infertility doesn't mean failure.
"Men often tie up things not happening with a failure of sorts and that kind of thinking is really psychologically damaging. They can get sidelined too - either they don't understand the magnitude of a failed pregnancy and can't grasp how long it takes a woman to recover from it or else they are silently grief-stricken and can't express it in a healthy way."
"Talking it out with an objective outsider doesn't have to be a sob-session. Getting a fresh perspective and being given effective strategies is what I do and it usually serves men better to think about things in a strategic, less emotional way."
Like everything, balance is key. "Try not to get too hung up on getting pregnant. I know it is easy to say, but try to indulge the more meaningful things that you do have control over like planning what kind of parent you are going to be, maintaining your other interests, being connected and nurturing your own relationship".
Trying and not succeeding in having a baby can take a huge toll on a relationship but the advice is to listen and be heard. "You still have each other, kids are a bonus. Balance is so important. Focus on the things you can do - this is especially important for men - own what the Germans call the 'hygiene of living' - sleep well, think about what you are eating, how you work, how you live your life, how you relate to others.
"Before there was anything, there were you and your partner - everything else could be considered a bonus."
Helena Tubridy is a fertility coach who helps individuals and couples through infertility issues.
More like this:
- Can acupuncture improve fertility? Here
- Is freezing eggs the future for women? Here
- We need to talk about fertility. Here