There is plenty of good information about how women can improve their chance of falling pregnant and having a healthy baby. But what about fathers-to-be? Research now shows that the father’s age, and his health at the time of conception, affect the chance of his partner falling pregnant and the future health of the baby. It takes three months for new sperm to develop and mature, so you’ll need to make sure that you’re as healthy as possible for at least three months before you start trying.
The effect of age on sperm
Unlike women, who are born with all the eggs they will ever have, men continue to produce sperm throughout their lives. This means that they can potentially reproduce into old age. But, many people don’t realise that the quality of the sperm declines as men get older. Partners of men who are over the age of 45 take longer to fall pregnant than partners of younger men. They’re also more likely to have a miscarriage. And while these conditions are rare, autism and other mental health problems are slightly more common in children of older fathers. So, if you have a partner and want to have children, sooner is better than later.
Getting fit for your child’s future
We all know that being overweight increases the risk of health problems, but did you know that paternal obesity can also affect the health of the baby? This is because obesity affects the environment where sperm mature, and this can change how the genes that are passed on to the child from the father at the time of conception function. Changes in genes in response to the environment are called ‘epigenetics’ and they can affect the health of the baby at birth and in adulthood. So, if you’re concerned about your weight, talk to your doctor to find out what your options are.
Good diet and regular exercise
Whether you’re overweight or not, a good diet and regular exercise also improves the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy. Australian and international guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, cycling or heavy housework on most, and preferably all, days of the week. If possible, some vigorous activity, such as running, playing sport or fast swimming, should also be performed every week.
Cut back on your alcohol consumption
As part of your health mission, consider limiting your alcohol consumption, because alcohol in high doses can cause impotence, reduce libido and affect the quality of sperm.
Keep your environment eco-friendly
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals that cause damage to all parts of the body, including the sperm. Just like with obesity, smoking changes the environment where sperm mature, and this can increase the risk of health problems in children born to fathers who smoke. There is no safe limit for smoking; the only way to protect yourself and your unborn baby from harm is to quit. But quitting can be difficult and you may need support. Speak to your doctor for advice and information about helpful resources.
As part of daily life, and in some work environments, we’re exposed to many toxic substances and pollutants. Some of these can affect a man’s sperm and his fertility and potentially his children’s health and development. Environmental factors that are known to have a detrimental effect on reproductive health include pesticides, heavy metals, some chemicals, harmful plastics, radiation, recreational drugs and anabolic steroids.
Get a health check
For more advice and to make sure you’re in the best health possible, see your GP for a health check at least three months before you start trying for a baby.