You already know how important it is for your health to be in optimal shape if you want to get pregnant. However, many couples overlook the fact that the male partner’s physical condition also affects the chances of conceiving. “In general, the healthier a man, the healthier his sperm will be,” says Joshua M. Hurwitz, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and partner at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut. And while you and your guy probably already know that a number of things that can affect his sperm and fertility, like being overweight or too thin, smoking cigarettes, excessive drinking, and use of recreational drugs, you may not be aware that some medications can also interfere with his fertility.
How medicines affect male fertility
Most of the medications that affect sperm will decrease production, causing a low sperm count, but some others can affect the way the sperm functions, Dr. Hurwitz says. Low sperm count means your partner will have fewer sperm available to fertilize an egg, and if the sperm’s motility (its ability to move) is reduced, the sperm will have a difficult time reaching the egg.
How long a medication affects a man’s sperm varies depending on the medicine. A good rule of thumb is a man shouldn’t expect any changes to occur until at least two to three months after he discontinues the medication. That’s because it takes sperm about that long to form and fully mature. So what he did in the past 90 days—for instance, using recreational drugs—will affect his sperm (or the baby he makes) today. And what he does today will show up in his sperm two to three months from now.
With some medications, it can take much longer for sperm counts to increase. Testosterone supplements, for example, can have a lingering effect, taking many months or even years before sperm production resumes. In some cases, it doesn’t return at all.
Fortunately, if taken in the proper dose and used as intended, most common OTC medications shouldn’t reduce sperm count, says Mark Surrey, M.D., co-founder and medical director of the Southern California Reproductive Center. However, since there are many different OTC medications and remedies that are untested, it’s best to play it safe. If you’re trying to become pregnant, discuss any OTC meds with your guy’s doctor first, and be especially cautious with the following:
Another reason to avoid so-called natural and herbal remedies: the possibility of testosterone. Any supplement that has the term “male enhancement,” “andro booster,” “T-booster” or similar has testosterone or analogs of testosterone, which will decrease sperm production, explains Dr. Hurwitz.
If your partner is taking any of the following medicines, discuss it with his or your health care provider to determine what impact it may have on your attempts to become pregnant.
Just because your guy uses one (or more) of these meds, it doesn’t mean the two of you can’t become parents. It’s a good idea for him to have a sit-down with his doctor and discuss every medication he takes and how it might affect your attempt to become pregnant. In most cases, if a drug does affect sperm quantity or quality, the man can switch to another medication that has less of an impact on his fertility, says Dr. Hurwitz.
Even better, lifestyle modifications may improve the underlying condition and decrease the need for some medications, Dr. Murray says. For instance, losing weight, being physically active, limiting salt intake and making other changes may help get your guy’s blood pressure under control so that he no longer needs the medication. Of course, your partner should never stop taking a required medication without his doctor’s approval.
In addition, he may want to talk to his doctor about whether medication-free alternatives might work for him. Acupuncture for pain and cognitive behavior therapy for depression are a couple that are worth looking into, for example.
Even if your partner will be taking chemotherapy drugs, it doesn’t automatically mean your conception dreams are over. Doctors usually recommend men bank or freeze sperm beforehand, if possible.