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Ways to Build a Family

At ExSeed it’s always our aim to help you improve your sperm health as you embark on your fertility journey. But we also know that there is no one way to build a family and that your journey can take you in many different directions. Over the last few years we have been lucky enough to meet, collaborate and partner with so many incredible people who have all had their unique road to parenthood. 

If you are one of the 1 in 7 couples that are facing infertility, sometimes it might feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but we wanted to highlight all of the options you have available to you and remind you that there is no one ‘right’ way to build a family.  

Assisted Fertility 

The world of assisted fertility is pretty incredible. Whether you are struggling with fertility or are in a same-sex couple, medical advancements mean there are now so many different ways you can conceive. When you first decide to go down this route, it can be a bit overwhelming – especially with all the new lingo and acronyms. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common terms you might hear.  

IVF

IVF is one of the most common assisted fertility treatments. It can be helpful for couples who are experiencing issues with ovulation, egg quality or if the sperm is struggling with count or motility. It’s also great if you are using donor sperm or eggs. Through IVF, eggs are harvested from the female partner or donor and combined with a sperm sample in a laboratory. The sperm are then left to fertilise the egg on their own. Once a viable embryo has been created, it is placed back into the womb where it hopefully implants and develops into a healthy pregnancy. 

IVF can be a tough process and involves a lot of hormonal medication for the female partner.  Success rates vary but IVF has been helping people become parents for over 40 years, and the number of babies created through IVF is increasing all the time! 

ICSI 

You know those pictures you always see in articles about IVF, with the needle going into the egg? Yeah, that’s actually not IVF, that’s ICSI. The process of ICSI is almost identical to IVF but the doctors take a single sperm cell and inject It into the egg. It can be very useful for people with low sperm count or poor motility.  

IUI and ICI 

IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) and ICI (Intracervical Insemination) are both forms of artificial insemination. The difference is that with IUI the sperm is inserted directly into the uterus (and must be done at a clinic) whereas with ICI it is inserted into the cervix – it’s possible for this to be done at home. 

Both of these procedures can be supported with fertility drugs, but generally speaking, they closely mimic natural conception. It is often the choice favoured by people using donor sperm as it’s more affordable than IVF. It’s important to know the difference between ICI and IUI when thinking about the sperm sample you are using. Washed sperm has to be used with IUI, whereas unwashed can be used with ICI. 

If you are considering assisted fertility treatment, here are some helpful resources for you. 

Our ExSeed Talks webinar on sperm health and assisted fertility 

Advice on going abroad for IVF

Advice on what to do when waiting for fertility treatment

Our thoughts on why a sperm test can help you on an assisted fertility journey 

Donor Sperm & Eggs

Using donor sperm or eggs can be something that many couples struggle with at first – as it will involve one or both of you not being genetically linked to the child. However, in our experience, we have seen so many beautiful families created in this way and are constantly reminded that it is love that bonds a family – not genetics. 

There are lots of decisions to make when it comes to using donor sperm (or eggs) – from what kind of donor you want to how you want fertilisation to take place. For some people, they choose to go with a private donor (someone they know) and conceive through ICI (at home insemination). For others, you might buy sperm from a sperm bank and go through an IVF process. 

If you are considering donor conception, here are some helpful resources. 

Advice on where to find a sperm donor in the UK

Our interview with Emma Grønbæk  aka Donor Child 

Our ExSeed Talks with Shaun from Knackered Knackers

Our EXseed Talks with Gareth Landy aka Pretty Fly for XXY

You can also check out the Knackered Knackers community, where Shaun shares more about his experience of becoming a father through donor sperm. 

Surrogacy 

Surrogacy can be a wonderful way to build a family  – and people consider this route for a few different reasons. Potentially you are a same-sex couple where neither of you has the ability to carry a child, or you could be in a heterosexual relationship but the female partner is unable to carry for medical reasons. Whatever brings you to surrogacy, there can be a lot to get your head around at first, but it’s a brilliant way to grow your family. 

Surrogacy often brings together all of the above in terms of conception. You may be using donor eggs – or even sperm – and it’s likely you’ll go through an assisted fertility treatment to actually conceive. From a legal perspective, surrogacy laws differ quite dramatically from country to country. In the UK for example, you are not allowed to pay surrogates, so many people partner with someone they know who is willing to carry their child for them. In the States, however, you can pay somebody, so the set-up is slightly different there. 

If you are considering surrogacy conception, here are some helpful resources. 

Our advice on surrogacy and sperm health 

Our partnership with Two Dads UK

You can also join the My Surrogacy Journey community run by our friends at Two Dads UK

Adoption

Adoption is also an option to consider. When moving through a fertility journey, some people realise that for them being a parent is about raising a child and helping to shape a life – rather than having a baby. If this sounds like you, adoption could be an amazing route to family life. 

For some families, this might mean adopting a child already within a familial unit – like a step-child – but for others, you might have to go through the process of being matched with and legally adopting a child who needs a family. Whilst this might not take the same physical toll as conception and pregnancy, it is rarely straightforward and can have an impact on your emotional wellbeing whilst you wait for the process to complete. There’s a lot of support out there, so make sure you invest in it. 

If you are considering adoption here are some helpful resources. 

Adoption UK Charity website 

Advice on adopting a child from overseas 

This lovely book on explaining adoption to kids 

However you build your family, and however long it takes, the journey will make you even better parents. The hardship and the effort you go through will be reflected in the love you have for your kids – and the love they have for you! – and that will make it all worth it in the end.  

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.

Stress

Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.

Nutrition

Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Vegetables
Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.

Heat

Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.

BMI

There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  

Alcohol

A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.

Age

Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.