Can we conceive with a low sperm count?

A number of factors can cause men to have a low sperm count, including obesity, genetic conditions, and age, to name a few. In fact, low sperm count is one of the most common contributing factors in male infertility. But does having a low sperm count automatically mean a man will struggle to conceive?

Actually, it doesn’t. In the right circumstances, men with a low sperm count can still conceive.

What’s low?

Low sperm count is also called oligospermia. It’s usually diagnosed when a man has less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of sperm. Low sperm count doesn’t mean that there’s a complete absence of sperm – that’s a different condition called azoospermia.

How to know?

There usually aren’t any physical symptoms of low sperm count besides trouble conceiving, so in most cases, men under 35 should get their sperm count tested if they’ve been unable to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected sex. Those over 35 may want to get tested after 6 months of being unable to conceive.

  • Testing and diagnosis: This answering questions about medical history, and then providing a semen sample by masturbating into a sterilized container. Usually a few samples are collected as sperm count fluctuates over the course of a day; this helps increase the accuracy of the results. The provider looks at the sample in a lab and observes the density of the sperm, and then calculates a measurement of the sperm-to-semen ratio.
  • Home testing: The convenience and privacy of home sperm testing is definitely appealing, and it’s accurate, too. According to Mayo Clinic, home sperm testing does usually provide an accurate measurement of sperm count. However, this kind of test doesn’t help men who are experiencing infertility for of a different reason, like poor sperm motility or a blocked duct. So while home testing is convenient for testing sperm count, it likely won’t answer all of someone’s questions about why they’re having a hard time conceiving.

Can we still conceive?

It only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, and men with low sperm count can still conceive as their bodies are technically producing sperm. However, because there is less sperm per milliliter of semen, there might be a lower chance each cycle for men with a low sperm count than for men with a normal sperm count.

  • Lifestyle changes: To increase their chances of conception, men with a low sperm count should consider certain lifestyle activities that might help increase sperm count, like getting to a healthy weight, quitting cigarette smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and eating a balanced diet. More frequent ejaculation is also a way to increase sperm quality.
  • ART: A variety of assisted reproductive technologies (ART), including intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), are also available to help couples who are trying to conceive with a low sperm count. Using one of these methods can significantly raise the chances of a couple with a low sperm count conceiving.

It can be hard for men to learn that they have a low sperm count, especially if they’re TTC. But depending on the cause of a low sperm count, there are a lot of options to try to make pregnancy more likely. A diagnosis isn’t the final word on whether or not conception is possible, and in every case, it’s worth considering the various treatment options that are available to help the process along.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Low sperm count: tests and diagnosis.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 15 2015. Web. 
  • “Male Factor.” Resolve. Resolve: The National Infertility Association, 2016. Web. 
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Low sperm count: definition.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 15 2015. Web. 
  • “Infertility in men.” University of Maryland Medical Center, Dec 17 2012. Web. 
  • Todd Nippoldt. “Low sperm count: Is there a home sperm test that can tell me whether I’m fertile or not?” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mar 25 2015. Web. 
  • “Fertility Fact and Fiction” Preseed., Jun 4 2014. Web. 
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