So you've been trying to conceive for what seems like forever, or maybe you're just preparing to start this journey. You've done your research and are doing everything under the sun you can to try to get pregnant, but your partner may want to help, too (in more ways than in the bedroom). How should your partner prepare for TTC? Whether it’s checking out their own fertility, or preparing to be there emotionally for you, there are quite a few ways they can be supportive — whether it’s a male partner or not.
If you've been trying to conceive for a long time (at least six months if you're over 35, to a year if you're under 35), it may be time for your partner to consider the possibility that he should have his sperm count tested.
Suzanne Munson, natural health expert for Fairhaven Health, tells Romper that sperm count is the most common cause of infertility in men. "A man normally delivers 200 to 500 million sperm per ejaculation. However, many sperm die immediately upon ejaculation," she says. And, for the sperm that survive ejaculation, it is a long and arduous journey through the female reproductive organs to find the newly released egg . . . of the nearly 500 million sperm that are released during ejaculation, only a maximum of 200 sperm ever reach the egg to even have a shot at fertilization."
So, the more sperm you have to begin with, the greater the chance you have that one sperm will find its way to the egg, according to Munson.
If you or your partner think his sperm count may be low, there are two options: You can seek tests at a fertility specialist, or you can purchase an at-home sperm count test. If testing at home, it will allow him to "determine if his sperm count is within normal range, without the expense and inconvenience of having a semen analysis performed at a clinic," Munson says. "If the result of this test is negative (below normal sperm count), further testing is probably warranted, and the man should seek the advice of a physician."
At a fertility clinic, they’ll perform various tests and a comprehensive analysis to evaluate the sperm count. If they find he does have a low count, they’ll try to figure out what’s causing it and fix it. However, "in some cases, the actual production of sperm is normal, but there is a blockage in the epididymis or vas deferens (typically caused by inflammation due to a sexually transmitted disease) that is preventing sperm from entering the ejaculate," Munson says. And in that case, sometimes surgery is recommended to eliminate the blockage.
Other alternatives to help with sperm count include lifestyle changes and supplements. Munson said the supplemental solution she recommends is "FertilAid," which claims to "improve sperm count, motility and morphology." If supplements aren't your man’s style, he should still take his health seriously before trying to conceive, because lifestyle and environmental factors can contribute to male infertility. "At least three months before TTC, a man should discontinue use of any recreational drugs, limit alcohol consumption, and exercise regularly (but not to excess)," Munson suggests. Eating well is also key, and Munson adds that "even the healthiest men should consider supplementing their diets with a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement."
Dr. Philip Werthman, urologist and director for the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal in Los Angeles, California, says your partner adding antioxidants to their diet helps with fertility, "Taking a supplement form of antioxidants reduces the amount of sperm that become damaged," he says to Romper in an email. "There are many different sources of antioxidants, but among the best for sperm health are zinc, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E, folic acid, and lycopene ... you may also consider adding more of the foods that contain these antioxidants into your diet."
Werthman also suggests having sex regularly (even when it's not your fertile window) helps improve sperm. "In a study of men with low sperm count, the sperm performed the best after one day of abstinence. So, having sex every other day turns out to be the best bet, sperm-health wise," he says.
Reducing soy intake, keeping cool by avoiding hot showers and hot tubs, limiting your alcohol to one or two drinks per day, and getting enough sleep are also helpful with male fertility, according to Werthman.
As far as emotional support, what should your partner be doing for you, and what can you be doing for each other during this stressful time?
According to Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist in Denver, "When a couple decides to intentionally try to conceive, things can change — lovemaking can often go from spontaneous, enjoyable bonding time, to regimented mechanics. When the effort to conceive each month doesn't work, it can also create a roller coaster of emotions from excited anticipation to disappointment and depression."
Fisher tells Romper it’s important to discuss the potential of these two things happening in advance as a couple.
"First, discuss together how you could keep sex from becoming too predictable and regimented during the TTC stage so it still serves the purpose of bringing your hearts closer together instead of just trying to create life," he says. "Second, take off the pressure and timeline on when you hope to conceive. Usually, the more stressed you are with wanting it to happen in your time frame, the more of an emotional roller coaster you'll become."
He also suggests trying to stay relaxed with the timeframe, because all you can do is encourage it to happen. "Trust the process, and whatever timeline that unfolds," he adds.
Even if you’re in a same-sex relationship, your partner can still help you emotionally if you’re TTC, and the support is the same no matter what type of relationship you're in.
According to Psychology Today, it’s important to have someone in your corner when dealing with difficulties, and that can go a long way. It also may feel like all you can think about, and therefore talk about, is TTC and pregnancy. "Some people like to discuss their troubles with the one they love on a nonstop basis, which can be exhausting," the Psychology Today article noted. "If you or someone you love is obsessing about a problem, it probably feels good to let the anxiety or sadness out — but talking nonstop about the issue won’t help anyone."
The article also suggested that the couple take time to update each other about what’s going on by picking specific a day and time. That way, it’s not constant. And if your frustrations boil over, remember, either you or your loved one may be acting "unconsciously and letting negative emotions come out" — which is super destructive — so it’s important for both of you to try to filter your words and think before you speak.
If your partner is trying to conceive, remind her to take care of herself, and that you’ll love her and be there for her, no matter what. She wants you to get angry with her, she wants you to feel as disappointed as she does when that test is negative yet again. It makes her feel like she’s not alone in this seemingly ongoing battle.
As with female infertility, there are myths with male infertility as well, including the fact that male fertility isn’t common and there’s nothing they can do to increase sperm count. "In fact, in four out of 10 couples who struggle with becoming pregnant, the male partner is the cause of infertility," Munson says.
Remember, trying to conceive can be a stressful time not only for you, but also for your partner. If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, and he’s trying to get you pregnant, it can be hard for him to completely understand what you’re going through. He may also be as anxious as you. For all types of couples, it’s important to keep communication open, but not be obsessive — you don’t want to burn out. If you’ve been trying for a while, maybe it’s time for your partner to check on his own fertility. Good luck and try to relax. You both know you’re doing everything you can, and at least you’re both on the same page of being ready to grow your family.