Even though Dad’s not going to be the one carrying the baby, his health, specifically that of his sperm, plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll get pregnant.

If he has a low sperm count, it reduces the chances that one of his swimmers will fertilize your egg. A low sperm count means the amount of sperm in his semen is lower than normal. A normal sperm count is anything from 15 million to more than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. If a man has anything less than 15 million, it’s considered low sperm count.[1]


What causes low sperm count?

Sometimes, the cause of low sperm count is unknown. But some possible causes include:

  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Trauma to the testicles (e.g. sporting injuries)
  • Undescended testicles (even those that were repaired early)
  • A varicocele (an enlargement of the veins within the scrotum, not unlike varicose veins that can appear in legs)
  • Orchitis (inflammation of one or both testicles most often due to infection)
  • Some sexually transmitted infections
  • Taking certain medications
  • Certain prior surgeries
  • Environmental causes, like exposure to toxic chemicals or radiation
  • Lifestyle factors, including smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use (including marijuana) and obesity

It's important to remember that sperm count isn't the only factor in predicting fertility from sperm. The other important components of a semen analysis include motility (or the percent of sperm that are moving and how they're moving) as well as morphology (an analysis of sperm shape). Abnormalities in more than one component increase the impact of fertility.

Signs and symptoms of low sperm count

Other than infertility, there may not be any other signs of low sperm count in a man. But some men may experience the following symptoms of low sperm count:

  • A decrease in facial or body hair (which can be signs of a hormonal or chromosomal imbalance or abnormality)
  • Pain, swelling or a lump in or around the testicles

Just remember these symptoms aren't the same as a diagnosis by a doctor, but they can be suggestive of a problem. Talk to your OB/GYN or a fertility specialist to be sure.

How to increase sperm count naturally

The good news is that a low sperm count doesn’t automatically mean infertility in men. Plus, there are things he can do to increase his sperm count and up the chances of the two of you accomplishing your baby-making goal. Follow these tips for increasing sperm count naturally:

1. Eat healthy, nutrient-packed foods

Mom's nutritional needs aren’t the only ones that are going to be challenged in the baby-making process — men need fertility-boosting foods too. Research shows that dads-to-be need lots of vitamins C and E, zinc and folic acid, found mainly in natural foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains and lean protein.

Antioxidant-rich foods, like walnuts (and, again, fruits and veggies), have also been shown to boost sperm quality.[2] What's more, deficiencies of vitamins C, D, E, zinc, selenium, folic acid and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, may interfere with sperm production and quality.

On the other side of the coin, some foods are bad for sperm. Diets high in saturated fats (think: fried foods, fatty or processed meats, and baked goods) can reduce semen quality.[3] And some research suggests that a high intake of soy foods is associated with lower sperm concentration.[4]

So for the best swimmers, make sure your guy has a nutritious, well-rounded diet and takes a daily multivitamin. And hey, if the old adage is true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, a little healthy home cooking may help get things cooking in the bedroom!

2. Reduce stress

Stress can interfere with the production of sperm (not to mention make sex a lot less fun — or nonexistent), so help your guy relax.[5]

Make sure he gets enough sleep and regular exercise (but no ultra-marathons — excessive exercise has been shown to decrease testosterone levels and sperm quality).[6] And have him try some relaxation exercises like meditation or deep breathing — or give him a massage.

3. Turn off the heat

While you're trying to conceive, it's important for your partner to keep his nether regions cool. Saunas, steam rooms, long, hot baths, and hot tubs can raise your man’s body temperature temporarily — lowering the number and quality of his sperm.

So keep your guy out of the heat (and keep that electric blanket off-limits for now too).

4. Quit smoking and drinking

Cigarettes and recreational drugs are linked to lower sperm count. Heavy alcohol consumption can lower a man's numbers too. The combination of these habits is particularly harmful to male fertility.

What’s more, studies show that men who smoke have lower sex drives and less frequent sex. Plus, smoking, recreational drugs and alcohol can also possibly affect his performance in the bedroom.

The best bet is to cut way down on all of these, or even better, cut them out. (Once you become pregnant, secondhand smoke will put your pregnancy and baby at risk.)[7]

5. Have sex regularly

Abstinence may make the heart grow fonder (and the libido grow stronger) — but it doesn’t do anything to increase your odds of scoring at conception roulette.

So if your man has been cutting back on sex — and stepping up on cold showers — in order to store up a sizable supply of sperm for when you’ll need it most (ovulation time), you’d be wise to rethink this strategy.

Male fertility research suggests if your guy has a normal sperm count, you’ll have the best chance of conceiving if you have sex every one to two days. If your guy has a low sperm count, you’re better off having sex every two days instead of doing the deed only every two weeks.

Indeed, prolonged abstinence has little positive effect on conception and can actually decrease a couple’s chances of hitting baby bingo — even for men with low sperm counts.

How so? While holding back does increase the number of sperm (a good thing in that more boys are available to start the trip), abstinence longer than one day decreases sperm mobility and appearance (a bad thing because there are fewer boys strong enough to make it to the finish line).

On the flip side, overdoing the deed (say, more than once a day) won’t boost your chances in the baby-making lottery. That’s because ejaculating more than once a day won’t give him time to regenerate his sperm — and you’ll want a good supply every time you get down to business!

6. Watch his weight

It may take longer for women who are overweight or obese to get pregnant than women who are at a normal BMI — and research shows that men who are overweight are more likely to have fertility problems too.

One study suggested that a 20-pound increase in a man's weight may increase the chance of infertility by about 10 percent. Men who tip the scales too far on the opposite end may also have a problem. Having a very low BMI (less than 20) may reduce sperm quality and concentration. So work together to reach a healthy, stable weight to ensure optimum baby-making potential.[8]

7. Steer clear of the wrong chemicals

Dads-to-be should try to avoid or reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals, like lead, pesticides and other toxins, found in some industrial workplaces, which can hamper a healthy conception.[9]

Check out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for information on chemicals that are hazardous to fertility and to find out if there are risks at your man's job site. 

If he has to work around hazardous chemicals, there are some things he can do to reduce his exposure to dangerous substances. He should always wear gloves, protective clothing and a respirator when working around toxic chemicals. He should avoid skin contact with the chemicals. He also needs to make sure he washes his hands before eating or drinking.

To decrease the chances of him bringing toxic substances home, he should change out of his work clothes and shoes and wash with soap and water (at least his hands) before he goes home. Then have him shower as soon as he gets home. He should also wash his work clothes separately from other laundry.

8. Get a preconception checkup

Just like the future mom-to-be, would-be-dads should check in with the doc.

At the preconception visit, the doctor can ensure that any and all chronic conditions are under control. The two will also discuss any medications he’s taking and whether or not they may affect fertility, his family history, whether genetic testing is recommended, and any lifestyle choices that may affect conception or the pregnancy.

And so that he doesn’t spread any illnesses like the flu or chicken pox to the mom during pregnancy (or the baby after birth), the doctor will also catch him up on any needed immunizations.

9. Keep laptops on your desk

Research has found that men who use a laptop on their laps have lower sperm counts, potentially because the heat from your computer can raise the temperature of the testes, lowering sperm count.

So when your man is busy on his laptop, offer him a lap tray, or better yet, a desk!

10. Take a break from biking

Avid cyclists who spend more than several hours a week in the saddle might want to cut back on rides, at least until the baby-making is accomplished. At minimum, he should not bike not sitting in the saddle every 15 minutes or so. Again, those testes can be testy about performing when they're under stress. 

If you or your guy are concerned that he might have a low sperm count, discuss it with your doctor. And try not to freak out about it too much. Remember: A low sperm count doesn’t mean infertility. With a few lifestyle changes, he may be able to boost his numbers — and your chance of conceiving.