40-50% of couples who struggle to have a baby suffer from male factor infertility. If your sperm count is a little low or your sperm are spinning around in circles, it suddenly seems obvious why they are finding it difficult to reach the egg for fertilisation.
Fortunately, the invention of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) has offered couples with male factor infertility an amazing solution by bypassing the barriers associated with many poor sperm parameters. In this process, a single sperm is selected and injected directly into the egg. This means that only few healthy sperm are needed (as opposed to with IVF insemination where millions are needed) and they don’t necessarily have to be strong swimmers. ICSI has now offered hope to countless couples who would previously have been unable to conceive.
A sperm is the smallest cell in the body (and the egg is the largest). Each sperm is produced in the testes and carried outside the body in semen which is a fluid produced mostly by the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland. In men with an average sperm count, around 3000 sperm are produced every second and millions are released in every ejaculate. Unlike women, men will continue to produce sperm for their whole lives, although the quality may reduce with age.
The quantity and quality of sperm in your semen sample is affected by many factors; from your genetic make-up to your diet, lifestyle and environment. For example, taking steroids or recreational drugs can have a male contraception effect and therefore has a huge impact on sperm production. Even taking hot baths can drastically reduce your sperm count as cooler temperatures are required for sperm production – the reason why the testes hang outside the body.
Luckily it takes around 3 months to grow a new batch of sperm from the start, right through to ejaculation - so making positive lifestyle changes can have a positive result which is effective in as little as 12 weeks. It is also important to note that reduced semen parameters can also be caused by many diseases and may be a sign of an underlying health concern which should be investigated. For example, there may be a mechanical blockage in the tubes delivering the sperm to the ejaculate. This can mean that the sperm count in the semen is low or zero, but it does not necessarily mean that there are not sperm being produced, they just aren’t being released.
Although it takes approximately 3 months to produce a single batch of sperm, new waves of sperm production are happening constantly within the long stretches of tubules in the testes. This constant production line ensures that there are always mature sperm ready to be released for every ejaculate.
If you are trying for a baby, it may seem like the best thing to do is to save up the sperm you have so there is more waiting in the testes for when you really need it rather than wasting it with frequent ejaculations. Unfortunately this is not true. Sperm cannot survive for more than a few days before they are reabsorbed into the body and it takes around 24-36 hours to fully replenish your stock. This is why you will be asked to abstain from any sex or masturbation for at least 2 days but no more than 7 days before a semen analysis or fertility treatment to give the optimum results. Luckily sperm can survive for around 5 days in the female reproductive tract… those little guys are committed!