From eating the right foods to adopting certain positions, there is much conventional wisdom about what couples should do to boost their chances of having a baby.One popular idea is that men should abstain from sex before trying to conceive to build up their sperm count and improve their potency.However, new research from North Middlesex Hospital in London appears to turn this theory on its head, with findings suggesting that having sex twice within an hour could triple a man’s chance of becoming a father. Crucially, it is the second attempt that is thought to count.The study involved 73 couples who were all undergoing intrauterine insemination (IUI), a fertility treatment where sperm is placed directly into the womb.When the men, who were classed as sub-fertile, produced two sperm samples within the hour and the second sample was the one used in the treatment, it resulted in a pregnancy rate of 20 per cent — more than three times the 6 per cent success rate expected with this technique.
Fifteen of the women conceived straight-away and a further ten became pregnant the second time the couples tried the tactic in their fertile period a month later, giving an overall success rate of 34 per cent.Experts say the results overturn the myth that men should ‘save up’ their sperm to have a baby.The research was part of a project comparing the success rate of IUI with in vitro fertilisation (IVF), a well-known technique in which women are given drugs to induce the production of multiple eggs, with each egg then injected with a single sperm in a laboratory.According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), only 6 per cent of women will become pregnant from each IUI attempt.But the recent findings, presented to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology this summer, showed that if the second of two consecutive sperm samples was used, more than 20 per cent of the women conceived straightaway. This is compared with 24 per cent using IVF.It’s thought that this finding could also make a difference to those trying to conceive without fertility treatment.
There is a belief that men should abstain from sex ahead of a woman’s monthly window of peak fertility, about halfway through her cycle, so as not to deplete their potency.Indeed, NHS guidelines for men seeking infertility treatment say they should avoid sex for a minimum of two days before their appointment to produce a sperm sample.However, this new research indicates that, rather than draining reproductive capacity, having extra sex boosts it, because the fresher sample contains more good quality, fertile sperm.Researchers also believe many sperm analyses that find men to have a low sperm count or poor quality sperm could be inaccurate, because they look at the health of older sperm that has been stored in the testesand has already started to deteriorate or die.Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown, a specialist in human reproductive science at the University of Birmingham, says: ‘There is a great deal of misinformation out there.‘People still think that if you want to have a baby, you should save up sperm when, in fact, not having sex isvery bad for men because it affects sperm quality. The fresher the sperm, the better its condition
Gulam Bahadur, an infertility specialist at North Middlesex Hospital, who led the investigation, says: ‘Though this is a relatively small study, we believe it is a big step forward and could make a major difference to pregnancy rates.‘It would be reasonable to assume the same effect would apply to men trying to conceive naturally.’IUI is less invasive than standard IVF and costs £600 per attempt, compared with £6,000 for IVF, but it is not generally available on the NHS. So the new study has been welcomed by other specialists trying to promote greater access to this low-tech treatment.Bryan Woodward, chairman of the Association of Biomedical Andrologists, has published research showing IUI is better value than IVF and is leading an attempt to challenge NICE guidelines saying IUI does not work and should not be funded on the NHS. He says Dr Bahadur’s work is ‘very promising’.
■ Meanwhile, cycling could reduce the quality and quantity of sperm. It’s thought that cytokines, substances in the blood that transfer messages between cells, which are released as part of the inflammatory response, are also released during high-intensity cycling when the body is ‘stressed’.The excessive level of cytokines is thought to damage sperm.In a recent study, 24 men were enrolled on a cycling programme for four months and instructed to cycle on an exercise bike daily, with resistance increased week on week to make it more difficult.The cyclists were made to keep going until they had reached their maximum ability (according to a breath test).Results in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found there was a reduction in the number and motility ofsperm. There were also high levels of cytokines, which remained at this level even after 30 days of recovery without cycling.Certain cytokines are thought to be involved in the formation of sperm and, in excessive levels, cause damage to their membranes, which changes their shape and function.The researchers also say rigorous exercise is usually done in tight clothes and sitting on a saddle for a longtime can heat up the testicles — this can further damage sperm and prevent their formation.