The Patient's Guide to Embryology

How to improve your sperm count

If you are making an effort to improve your sperm for IVF you should try to implement changes at least 3 months before you start treatment.

Around 40% of couples who struggle to have a baby suffer from male factor infertility. If your sperm count is low or your sperm are spinning around in circles, it may help to explain why they are finding it difficult to reach the egg for fertilisation. Men have a surprising amount of control over their sperm quality and there are lots of dos and don’ts you can think about if you are trying to have a baby.

It takes around 3 months to make a sperm cell from start to finish so remember that the results of a semen analysis today are a reflection of your health and lifestyle 3 months ago. If you are making an effort to improve your sperm for IVF you should try to implement changes at least 3 months before you start treatment.

Easy tips for better sperm

Keep the testes cool

Testicles hang outside the body because sperm can only be produced at temperatures lower than core body temperature. If they get too hot, sperm production stops and the sperm which have already been made may become damaged.

In the months leading up to IVF treatment or if you are trying to have a baby naturally, avoid hot baths, hot tubs, saunas, BBQ-ing etc. as well as tight clothing that can lead to overheating. Even spending long periods using a laptop can be detrimental to sperm production. Keen cyclists or long distance runners may also find that their sperm production is affected more than others due to overheating and tight-fitting clothes.

Avoid lubricants

Lubricants are known as ‘spermicidal’ meaning that they kill sperm. Even lubricants advertised as water-based might appear safer but they will immediately kill any swimming sperm they come into contact with.

Diet and exercise

Efficient sperm production relies on maintaining the delicate balance between oxidants and antioxidants in the testes. Oxidants are increased by environmental factors such as smoking, alcohol, pollution and saturated fats which disrupt the balance and tip the body into oxidative stress – this causes damage to sperm and can reduce motility and morphology as well as damaging the DNA. You can counteract oxidative stress by increasing your intake of antioxidants which include lots of fruits and vegetables, particularly those containing vitamin C.

Regular exercise can also boost sperm quantity and quality. One study found that exercising 3-4 times a week resulted in 12.4% higher sperm motility, 17.1% higher sperm morphology and 14.1% high sperm concentration. However, don’t overdo it because intense exercise such as long distance running or cycling can have a negative effect on sperm.

Drugs, alcohol and smoking

Recreational drug use, excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking all have a negative effect on sperm quality and quantity. One study found that men who smoked had 29% lower total number of sperm in their sample than non-smokers. Giving up these harmful substances completely will improve your semen parameters but even cutting back can also make a significant difference.

Anabolic steroids have become increasingly popular in recent years and are known to cause oligozoospermia (low sperm count), azoospermia (no sperm being produced) and abnormal sperm morphology. They cause an increase in testosterone which disrupts the hormones that are needed to produce sperm. After stopping steroid use, sperm production can return to normal levels in around 4 months.


Getting ill isn’t usually something you can prevent but it is important to know how it might affect your chances of getting pregnant, particularly if you are due to start IVF treatment.

Sperm production in the testes is very sensitive to changes in body temperature and stress on the immune system. Flu, COVID-19, infections or other illnesses which can cause inflammation and fever often cause a temporary block to sperm production. It is not uncommon to see men with previously normal semen analyses producing very poor semen samples on the day of IVF treatment because they were unwell a few months earlier. STIs can also affect sperm production and cause long term damage to the sperm transport tubes in the testes. Whatever the cause of illness, sperm production will continue to be affected until the infection has been resolved and it will take at least 3 months for levels to return to normal.


Being overweight causes hormone imbalances that prevent normal sperm production. Oligozoospermia (low sperm count) and azoospermia (no sperm being produced) are more common in obese men and infertile men are more likely to be obese than men with a normal sperm count. Studies have shown that losing excess fat can help to improve sperm count and sperm function which could make the difference needed for a healthy pregnancy.

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