Low Sperm Count

Low sperm count (oligospermia) is a common cause of subfertility in couples.  The good news is that low sperm count does not necessarily prevent pregnancy from occurring and there is much you can do to improve your chances of conception.

Click here to read couples’ success stories in conceiving with low sperm count.

Low sperm count – what is it?

Low sperm countLow sperm count means that the number of sperm in a man’s semen is below the threshold of what is considered normal.  Sperm motility (ability to move) and morphology (form or shape) may also be reduced.  Sperm count is determined through a semen analysis.  A basic screen can be carried out through your local pathlab with a form from your GP or a more in depth analysis can be carried out at a fertility clinic.

In 2010, the World Health Organisation (WHO) updated the values used to determine what is ‘normal’, when looking at the different sperm parameters.  According to these updated values, sperm count is considered normal if there are at least 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen.   Likewise a ‘normal’ sample requires at least 40% motility (ability to move) and more than 4% of sperm having normal shape and form.  There can be wide fluctuations from day to day, so it is important to get 2-3 samples tested before a low sperm count is diagnosed.  


Low sperm count – how low is too low?

Sperm counts vary considerably between individuals and we don’t yet have enough knowledge to say for certain that a particular sperm count will assure fertility or infertility (although a total absence of sperm in the semen will make natural conception impossible and will require investigation through a fertility clinic). The quality of the sperm is often more important than the quantity.

In the Fertility Focus clinic, we have seen couples conceive naturally with a sperm count as low as 3 – 5 million per ml and research has shown that even in cases where sperm count is less than 2 million/ml, there is still a chance of natural conception.

Low sperm count – boosting your chances of pregnancy

There are many things you can do to improve sperm quality and boost fertility.

Learn fertility awareness

Learning fertility awareness and charting the menstrual cycle to determine the female partner’s most fertile day or days each cycle will enable you to maximise your chances of getting pregnant.

Because cervical fluid produced by the female is crucial in sperm transport and survival, timing intercourse for the day(s) of optimal cervical fluid will boost your chances of conception.  Timing intercourse for these most fertile days has also been shown to minimise the effect of lowered fertility due to male age.

It is not advisable for men with low sperm counts to have frequent intercourse when trying to conceive, as this could lower sperm numbers further.  Having intercourse every second or third day may be a better option. Ironically however, research has shown that  frequent ejaculation can be beneficial in cases of low motility.  At Fertility Focus, we will help you to become more strategic in your approach.

Make lifestyle changes

Free radicals are known to be a major cause of male infertility.  Free radicals are produced by normal processes in the body and through exposure to environmental factors.  These highly reactive molecules damage cells and an excess of free radicals in semen is known to be responsible for damaging sperm, which can lead to infertility and miscarriage.  Excess free radicals can be caused by poor diet, smoking and exposure to pollutants and chemicals in the environment.  There are several things you can do to fight free radicals and help reduce sperm damage:

  • Eat a diet high in antioxidants.  Antioxidants help to ‘mop up’ free radicals, reducing the amount of damage to sperm.  Foods high in antioxidants include berries, fruit and vegetables (particularly those that are brightly coloured), nuts and seeds, cereals and dark chocolate.
  • Don’t smoke!  Smoking causes free radical damage to sperm DNA and lowers sperm quality.  Men who smoke are four times as likely to have children who develop childhood cancer.  Smoking marijuana is also thought to affect sperm health.  Remember, it takes about 72 days for sperm to fully form, so even after you cease smoking, it may take several months for the effects to be reversed.
  • Reduce alcohol intake.  Alcohol is a testicular toxin and affects sperm production and sexual function in men.  Current advice is to keep alcohol consumption to below 20 units per week (one unit equates to a small can of beer or glass of wine – 125ml).
  • Avoid hot baths and spas: Heat is bad for sperm production (that is why the testicles hang outside the body!).  You may like to try wearing boxers instead of tight underpants.
  • Maintain a healthy BMI: Being overweight can reduce sperm count, particularly if excess fat leads to an increased temperature around the testicles.  Keeping BMI within a normal range is advisable.
  • Avoid environmental toxins and pollutants: Organic solvents, pesticides, lead, toxic fumes, phthalates and other chemicals are suspected in lowering male fertility, so it is advisable to reduce exposure to these toxins where possible and wear protective clothing when necessary.
  • And lastly, don’t ‘save up sperm’ by abstaining from ejaculation for long periods of time.  There is some evidence to show that abstaining from sex prior to trying to conceive is counterproductive, reducing sperm quality.

At Fertility Focus, we will give you additional advice, specific to your situation and will work with you to help maximise your chances of conceiving naturally.

For further information, please browse the relevant areas of the website, or contact us now.

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