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There are a lot of factors that could be impacting you and your partner’s ability to get pregnant. And a low sperm count could be one of them. Learning that you have a low sperm count—either after a semen analysis at a provider’s office or using an at-home sperm test—may come as a shock, especially if you and your partner are trying to conceive.
Keep reading to learn about how sperm count can impact fertility and pregnancy and what lifestyle changes you can make to help increase your pregnancy odds.
Low sperm count and pregnancy
Low sperm count, also called oligozoospermia, is typically defined as anything below 39 million swimmers per ejaculate. It’s one of the potential causes of male infertility. If your sperm count is low, you’re less likely to successfully conceive because having fewer sperm means there is a smaller number available to reach and fertilize the egg.
In many cases, the cause of low sperm count is unknown. Still, a number of factors can impact sperm health and lead to a lower number of sperm, including (Choy, 2020):
- Substance abuse and drug use
- Medication conditions and medications
- Exposure to pollution and chemicals
- Poor diet
- Abnormalities with the testicles or scrotum
- Undescended testicles
You can’t change all of the factors that may cause low sperm count and infertility, but there are some ways you can increase your chances of your female partner becoming pregnant with a low sperm count.
How to increase pregnancy chances with low sperm count
After undergoing a semen analysis and finding out that you have a low sperm count, it’s natural to wonder if there are some things you can try to increase your chances of pregnancy.
First of all, it’s important to remember that sperm count is only one factor in male fertility. It is not the only thing that determines whether you’re fertile or not. For example, even if you have a normal or high sperm count, you still won’t conceive naturally if none of them are moving.
Based on your complete semen analysis, a healthcare provider can help you determine how best to move forward. There’s no one fix to solve infertility, but in some cases, a healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes as the first step to improving your sperm health.
Here are eight tips and lifestyle modifications that may improve male fertility and sperm count:
Sperm morphology: what is it, and how does it affect fertility?
Consider adding weightlifting into your routine as well as some outdoor activities, like walking, hiking, yoga, or water sports.
A sedentary and inactive lifestyle may lower your sperm concentration. A 2014 study found exercising outdoors and strength training were associated with a higher sperm count (Gaskins, 2014).
While this could help increase your chances of becoming pregnant naturally, the study did not find that the better semen parameters led to a higher success rate of IVF fertility treatments, and more research is needed.
2. Eat a balanced diet
The foods you eat impact all areas of your health. A 2019 study found a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seafood, poultry, and low-fat dairy was associated with better sperm quality (Salas-Heutos, 2019).
In general, the foods that are recommended for overall health can also support male fertility. Diets rich in seafood, poultry, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—like the Mediterranean diet—are associated with better quality semen in men (Skoracka, 2020; Gaskins, 2018).
3. Maintain a healthy weight
People who have obesity are more likely to have lower sperm count, motility, and abnormal morphology (Ramaraju, 2018). So, losing weight could help to improve your sperm health and lower the risk of other diseases associated with obesity, like heart disease, and diabetes.
If you need help figuring out what a healthy weight is for you, consider talking with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for support.
4. Get enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep can impact pretty much every area of your health. A 2020 study found that people who reported poor sleep quality had lower sperm count and motility than those who reported a good sleep quality (Chen, 2020).
Try to improve your sleep hygiene to get a better night’s sleep. Consider trying these tips:
- Get to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Limit time looking at a screen before bed (TV, tablet, phone, etc.).
- Sleep in a dark, cool room.
- Avoid daytime naps.
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
- Try a relaxing nighttime routine to get you ready for sleep.
How to increase sperm count: 7 things to try
5. Take vitamins, if needed
Some types of vitamins and supplements could support healthy sperm.
Nutrition supplements to support healthy levels of vitamin C, selenium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, carnitine, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) are associated with improved sperm health (Salas-Huetos, 2019). And a 2018 study found supplements with CoQ10 and omega-3 fatty acids help increase sperm count (Salas-Huetos, 2018).
Some supplements may only help improve sperm health if you have a nutrient deficiency. So, you may be able to meet your nutrient needs through diet alone. Before taking supplements to boost your fertility, talk with your healthcare provider to ensure you actually need them.
6. Limit alcohol
Drinking alcohol can affect sperm health. Most studies suggest the effects of alcohol on sperm health are more apparent in people who drink heavily (Ricci, 2017). Heavy drinking can lead to changes in both semen volume and sperm morphology (shape and size).
Researchers are still unsure if moderate alcohol consumption impacts sperm health. Some studies show drinking moderate amounts of alcohol doesn’t impact sperm (Ricci, 2017). However, other studies show moderate drinking of five drinks per week did have some adverse effects on sperm health (Jensen, 2014).
The amount alcohol affects you likely depends on how your body metabolizes alcohol. If you have a low sperm count, consider cutting back on how much alcohol you drink.
7. Quit smoking
Cigarettes and tobacco products are associated with several health risks. And studies suggest smoking cigarettes can have a big impact on sperm health (Kovac, 2015).
An older study published in 2007 found heavy smokers had a 19% lower concentration of sperm than non-smokers (Ramlau-Hansen, 2007).
If you need help with smoking cessation, talk with your healthcare provider or consider finding a support group.
8. Don’t spend too much time in hot tubs
If you’re spending a lot of time in hot tubs or hot baths, it could temporarily impact your sperm health. Research suggests exposure to wet heat was associated with low sperm count and motility (Shefi, 2007).
The good news is the effects of hot tubs on sperm health appear to be reversible. So, if you’re trying to conceive, limiting the amount of time you’re exposed to heat, like in hot tubs or saunas, may help.
How long does sperm live in and outside the body?
The bottom line: Struggling with infertility can be hard. If sperm count is one of the factors that influences your chances of conceiving, keep in mind that your sperm health and your overall health are closely aligned, which is why the lifestyle factors above that support general wellness might also help improve a low sperm count.
There’s no one fix to solve infertility, but these lifestyle choices could help increase your chances of getting pregnant. Talk with your healthcare provider or a fertility specialist if you have any questions and discuss possible treatment options.
- Chen, H. G., Sun, B., Chen, Y. J., et al. (2020). Sleep duration and quality in relation to semen quality in healthy men screened as potential sperm donors. Environment International, 135, 105368. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2019.105368. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31830732/
- Choy, J. T. & Amory, J. K. (2020). Nonsurgical management of oligozoospermia. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 105(12), e4194–e4207. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgaa390. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7566408/
- Gaskins, A. J., Afeiche, M. C., et al. (2014). Paternal physical and sedentary activities in relation to semen quality and reproductive outcomes among couples from a fertility center. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 29(11), 2575–2582. doi:10.1093/humrep/deu212. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191451/
- Gaskins, A. J. & Chavarro, J. E. (2018). Diet and fertility: a review. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 218(4), 379–389. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28844822/
- Jensen, T. K., Gottschau, M., Madsen, J. O. B., et al. (2014). Habitual alcohol consumption associated with reduced semen quality and changes in reproductive hormones; a cross-sectional study among 1221 young Danish men. BMJ Open, 4, e005462. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005462. Retrieved from https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005462
- Kovac, J. R., Khanna, A., & Lipshultz, L. I. (2015). The effects of cigarette smoking on male fertility. Postgraduate Medicine, 127(3), 338–341. doi:10.1080/00325481.2015.1015928. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4639396/
- Ramaraju, G. A., Teppala, S., Prathigudupu, K., et al. (2018). Association between obesity and sperm quality. Andrologia, 50(3), doi:10.1111/and.12888. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28929508/
- Ramlau-Hansen, C. H., Thulstrup, A. M., Aggerholm, A. S., et al. (2007). Is smoking a risk factor for decreased semen quality? A cross-sectional analysis. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 22(1), 188–196. doi:10.1093/humrep/del364. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16966350/
- Ricci, E., Al Beitawi, S., Cipriani, S., et al. (2017). Semen quality and alcohol intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 34(1), 38–47. doi:10.1016/j.rbmo.2016.09.012. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28029592/
- Salas-Huetos, A., Rosique-Esteban, N., Becerra-Tomás, N., et al. (2018). The effect of nutrients and dietary supplements on sperm quality parameters: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Advances in Nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 9(6), 833–848. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy057. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30462179/
- Salas-Huetos, A., James, E. R., Aston, K. I., et al. (2019). Diet and sperm quality: Nutrients, foods and dietary patterns. Reproductive Biology, 19(3), 219–224. doi:10.1016/j.repbio.2019.07.005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31375368/
- Shefi, S., Tarapore, P. E., Walsh, T. J., et al. (2007). Wet heat exposure: a potentially reversible cause of low semen quality in infertile men. Official Journal of the Brazilian Society of Urology, 33(1), 50–57. doi:10.1590/s1677-55382007000100008. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17335598/
- Skoracka, K., Eder, P., Łykowska-Szuber, L., et al. (2020). Diet and Nutritional Factors in Male (In)fertility-Underestimated Factors. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(5), 1400. doi:10.3390/jcm9051400. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7291266/
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.