couple with baby

In 2020, one in three IVF cycles were due to male infertility or a combination of male and female infertility, a new report by the University of New South Wales has shown.

It is the first time IVF clinics in Australia and New Zealand have reported information about the health of men receiving fertility treatment for the Australia and New Zealand Reproduction Database.

While the cause of the male problem was unknown for more than 75% of men, some of the causes identified include:

  • Erectile dysfunction and ejaculation disorders
  • Genetic conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome
  • Testicular damage from cancer, infections or injuries
  • Previous vasectomy (a surgical procedure to prevent pregnancy).

President of the Fertility Society of Australia and New Zealand, Professor Luk Rombauts, said the data would help researchers study male fertility in future.

“In the past the focus of fertility treatment was almost always on the female patient, despite a man being equally needed to create a baby. Now that we are collecting data on the cause of male infertility, we can finally study its impact more closely,” he said.

The data published on 14th October 2022 shows about one in 18 babies born in Australia in 2020 were the result of fertility treatment including IVF.

Dr Karin Hammarberg, from Your Fertility and Monash University, said while IVF could help many men with fertility problems start a family, not all people who start IVF end up with a baby.

She said the report was a great reminder that it takes healthy sperm and a healthy egg to conceive and that there are things all people can do to protect their fertility and improve it if they want a baby in future.

While many causes of male infertility are not preventable, such as genetic conditions, Dr Hammarberg said men can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can cause fertility problems.

She said some infections, including gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can reduce sperm quality and block sperm tubes. These infections are not always noticeable, so it is important to get regular tests.

“The only way to protect yourself from STIs is to practice safe sex with a condom, and if you do have unprotected sex, get tested regularly so you can detect an infection and get timely treatment. The faster you treat an STI, the less damage it will do,” said Dr Hammarberg.

Healthy Male Medical Director and male fertility specialist, Professor Rob McLachlan, encourages men to make healthy changes at least three months before trying for a baby because it takes about three months to make new sperm.

If you are planning to start a family, he recommends quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding recreational drugs, including steroids, which can stop sperm production.

“It could improve your chance of having a healthy baby, avoiding fertility treatment, and importantly having a long and healthy life with your child,” he said. 

While women are often reminded of their biological clock, Dr Hammarberg said age can also affect a man’s fertility.

“Even though men continually produce sperm throughout their life, research shows it takes longer for partners of men aged over 45 to conceive. This applies to people trying to conceive with IVF too,’’ she said.

“Sperm quality also declines with age, which increases the chance of miscarriage and problems for the baby, including neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. So, if you have a choice between trying sooner or later, sooner is always better.”

If you want to father a child soon or in future, check out Your Fertility’s pre-conception checklist for men.

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