Q&A with Andrology Australia’s director Professor Rob McLachlan. Andrology Australia is a partner in the Fertility Coalition, which runs the Your Fertility campaign.
Rob, what are the main factors men need to be aware of if they want to conceive a child and for the child to be healthy?
Lifestyle factors such as smoking, being very overweight and drinking too much alcohol can affect a man’s fertility and the health of their child. Men who smoke should also be aware that passive smoking can affect their partner’s fertility. Age affects men’s fertility later in life than it does for women but it is still a factor for men. Men who are trying for a baby should also be aware of not over-heating the testes because this is where sperm is stored. So no hot baths or saunas, and avoid using your laptop on your lap! Other factors that can affect a man’s fertility are taking steroids, recreational drugs, and exposure to heavy metals and toxic chemicals.
How does the age of a man or woman impact on fertility?
For men, age will start to impact on sperm when a man’s in his 40s. For women whose male partners are over 40, there’s generally a longer time to pregnancy, there’s a greater risk of miscarriage and a higher risk that the child will develop autism spectrum disorders and learning difficulties.
But the biggest single factor that affects a couple’s ability to conceive is a woman’s age. If a couple wants to have children, or more children, men need to support their (female) partner‘s ‘reproductive lifespan’. A woman’s fertility starts to decline when she’s in her early 30s and this decline speeds up when she’s around 35. By 40, a woman’s fertility will be half what it was in her 20s. We don’t want to pressure or panic anyone but as fertility specialists we want people to have evidence-based information, so they can make the choices that are best for them.
What can men do if they’re thinking about starting a family, or adding to their family?
They and their partner can fill in the ‘Get Baby-Ready’ preconception health questionnaire at the Your Fertility website www.yourfertility.org.au and take it to their doctor for a preconception health check-up. This will help the doctor understand whether there are any potential issues, or whether the guy or his partner might need tests or further information or support.
What if a man and his partner have been trying for a while to get pregnant, without success?
The Fertility Coalition advises that if you’ve been trying for a year or more and the female partner is under 35, it’s time to see your doctor. If a woman’s over 35, we advise seeing your doctor if you’ve been trying for six months or more.