Fertility decreases with age for a woman and also for a man although in different ways and to different degrees. One of the most important factors that determine fertility is age.
As a man, you are probably aware that women’s fertility declines after the age of 35 but do you also know that your age can affect your ability to become a parent, too?
While less is known about male fertility and age, there is increasing evidence that the older a man becomes, the more his fertility diminishes. You can’t change your age but with knowledge and proper education, it is possible to improve your chances of successfully fathering a child.
As earlier established, while it is not impossible for an older man to father children, it may not always be possible. Many men actually remain fertile until they are 60 or older, however, the ability to father a child does become more difficult and complicated with age.
From practical experience, it takes longer to father a child as you grow older. If you are over 50 and your woman is under 25, it can take about two years for her to get pregnant.
On the other hand, if both of you are under 25, it could take just a few months on average. If you are over 45 it could take five times as long for you to father a child than when you were under 25.
The fact really is that with advancing age, even In vitro fertilisation becomes more challenging. The risk of not having a baby after IVF is more than five times higher if the male partner is 41 years old or older.
One of the reasons why fertility decreases with age has to do with the volume and quality of the sperm. For a start, semen volume decreases with age. The amount of semen that you produce as well as the sperm’s ability to move towards an egg, decreases continually starting at the age of 20.
Semen consists of mobile sperm cells and seminal fluid that transports the sperm cells and enhances their fertilisation abilities.
Sperm cells are produced in the testes, stored in the epididymis, and comprise less than 10 percent of semen. Ejaculation occurs when semen is released from the penis, usually during orgasm. Ejaculation or semen, is made up of 90 per cent water. The opacity tends to increase with higher sperm concentrations (as measured by the sperm count).
Sixty-five per cent of the semen present in an ejaculation comes from the seminal vesicles, 35 per cent comes from the prostate, giving the semen its characteristic smell. Five per cent of your ejaculation is made up of other fluids in the body. During ejaculation, a thick-walled duct called the vas deferens carries the sperm cells from the epididymis to the urethra and then outside of the body or into the vagina by means of the penis.
The prostate gland also releases enzymes that work to liquefy semen about 15 to 30 minutes after ejaculation. This liquefying process allows the sperm to be slowly released.
The normal volume of semen that is released during ejaculation varies, although research suggests that the average volume is around 3.4 ml.
Also, two factors that may affect semen volume during ejaculation include the last time you ejaculated and hydration status. A healthy male discharges 50 million sperm in a single ejaculation. During sexual intercourse, of all those millions of sperm, only a couple hundred will make it to a mature egg that is ready to be fertilised.
Generally speaking, a sperm count of under 39 million per ejaculation or 15 million per milliliter lowers your odds of a successful conception. It doesn’t mean you won’t get pregnant or that there aren’t assisted means to improve your odds.
If you are struggling with fertility, a semen analysis will reveal if any aspect of your semen may be a contributing factor.
Your semen is not as simple as you may have thought. It has lots of components to it, all of which play a role in enhancing reproduction — your sperm reaching an ovulated egg.
However, it is important to note that the fluid part is not absolutely critical for fertilisation, as evidenced by intracytoplasmic sperm injection in which a single sperm is injected into an egg.
When you are aging, you will ejaculate less semen-containing sperm. You will also experience fewer orgasms.
Normally, multiple orgasms are rarer for men than they are for women. The ability to have repeated ejaculation varies considerably from man to man and begins to decline almost immediately once puberty is complete. Within a period of one to two hours, most men can have only one ejaculation.
Excessive ejaculation and prolonged abstinence are known to affect the number and quality of sperm.
Be aware that having intercourse every two to three days helps ensure optimal sperm count and health. Also note that the volume and distance of ejaculation don’t have any bearing on your ability to impregnate your partner. In fact, you can achieve conception with just a tiny bit of semen. This is why coitus interrupts (withdrawing before orgasm) may still lead to pregnancy.
There’s actually a higher risk of miscarriage with increasing age. Your age as the father can even impact the likelihood of survival of the baby in the womb.
As a man, it is important to realise that the risk of your woman having a miscarriage is twice as high if you are over the age of 45 than if you were aged under 25.
I would also point out that children fathered by men older than 40 are more likely to have birth defects such as an autism spectrum disorder than children fathered by men under 30.
But there is hope. While you may experience a decline in fertility, the older you get, there are steps you can take to improve fertility as you age.
It is useful to be aware that tight trousers and underwear, synthetic material and heat could adversely affect your sperm health and subsequently fertility. It is known that the testes function most effectively (including the production of sperm) at slightly cooler than core body temperature. Also note that frequent use of hot tubs and saunas may lower sperm counts, as heat may decrease sperm production.
Alcohol consumption is also a hazard as it can damage sperm production in a couple of ways. First, it may increase the production of estrogen by the liver, which can lower sperm count. Also, alcohol can directly harm the sperm-producing cells of your testicles. Limit your alcohol intake as you age and when trying to improve your fertility.
There are a number of drugs that affect male fertility including steroids, cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatments and opiates. Avoid them as much as possible.
Environmental toxins may also cause damage to sperm. For instance, it is known that radiation causes damage and birth defects. Other substances thought to have a detrimental effect on sperm are some perfumes containing chemicals known as phthalates, some types of pesticides, organic mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and estrogens in a water supply. Many of these substances are still the subject of ongoing research.
A healthy balanced diet is important. Foods rich in antioxidants may promote optimal sperm health.
Eating healthily and exercising is a good start. It is well known that obesity can contribute to infertility in men, and eating a healthy diet and being more active can reverse some fertility problems associated with obesity. Losing weight can also increase sperm count.
Lifestyle changes helps. Severe stress, alcohol, smoking and the use of hard drugs can all affect your sperm count. If any of these habits are part of your lifestyle, working toward changing them could increase your chances of remaining fertile as you age.
Fertility specialists are not only beneficial for women. If you and your partner are having difficulty conceiving, a specialist can help you combat age-related fertility issues.