Beyond the Egg Timer

An insider's guide to having children in your thirties and forties.

Aging Sperm

It’s not just eggs that have a shelf life.

We hear a lot of talk about women’s waning fertility with age. Male fertility is less often discussed. In fact, a very common misconception is that male fertility stays intact throughout the life span. This could not be farther from the truth. Men do have the ability to produce sperm throughout their life but the quality and quantity of that sperm takes a nose dive with aging. One set of researchers found that there was a steady decline in motility (how fast sperm can swim) and overall total count from age 22 to 80. This was further backed by a meta-review conducted in 2004 and then updated in 2010. The meta reviews explored the total effect of aging on male reproductive health and it was not sexy. In essence, as men age, they experience a decrease in hormone levels which of course affect everything from sperm production, quantity, and quality to sexual drive. Although the greatest impact is seen over age 40, they experience a continuous decline throughout the lifetime. What is interesting, though, is that supplementing testosterone did not improve sperm function in one study of men who were experiencing infertility. (This may explain why making a male hormonal birth control is challenging as their system just doesn’t respond in the expected way, but that’s a digression.) However, the majority of men are still fertile after age 40. It may simply take longer to achieve a pregnancy.   

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These researchers also found that coital frequency decreased as a couple ages however others have refuted this. We explore that topic here and it is much more complicated as coital rates are often linked to the length of the relationship and presumably those trying to conceive in their mid-thirties and forties have not been married that long. The stress of trying to conceive can also diminish male sexual function and hence coital frequency. If that is an issue you are facing, share some of these coping techniques with your man. Forming more realistic expectations about the time it takes those over 35 to conceive may also help reduce stress.

You may have also heard that birth outcomes are not as hot for the older dad set and this was confirmed in a 2013 review in The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care which showed that autism, schizophrenia, bipolar, and stillbirth are more common amongst children of older fathers. Before you panic, the overall risk of any of these conditions is still extremely low. Low enough that the researchers questioned if the actual risk of theses outcomes outweighed the emotional and social benefits of having fathers who were more mature and established in life.  

So what to do if your husband thinks he has all of the time in the world? First, start by showing him this post. Second, if he wants to delay past a point you are comfortable with, have an honest and open discussion about his concerns. This means you have to set aside your fears and agenda.  Your initial approach shouldn’t be about convincing him its time to start. You want to understand his hesitation. Does he have financial concerns? Is he concerned about his parenting skills? Does he not feel ready? Address each issue logically and systematically. 

If the concerns are financial, research how much the baby will cost for you. It is important to individualize that because expenses really vary on your preferences (breast feeding vs. bottle, cloth diaper vs. disposable, day care vs. SAHM, thrift store vs. everything brand new). Although we aren’t encouraging complete irresponsibility, most people really do raise babies on very little. You don’t need to have the college fund started, nor do you need to own your own house. This couple is raising two kids in a one-bedroom condo. If he doesn’t think he is nurturing enough, find examples from his life that prove he is. How is he with your pets or when you are sick? Reassure him that many people don’t like kids before they have their own. There are also “Daddy Boot Camps” in which he can learn actual baby care skills. Many people simply don’t feel “ready” for kids. This is true for even the most die-hard momma-wannabes. It is, perhaps, the biggest life change you will ever face so having some ambivalence about it is healthy. There may never be an exact, perfect, right time so you just need to jump in!

 

How did you and your husband decide the time was right? How did you help him get ready? 

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Sharon I. Praissman is an adult (medical) and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Emma Williams is a public health researcher and writer.

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