Men’s fertility health plays a critical role in a couple’s journey to parenthood, yet it often takes a backseat in public discussion. When people think about a couple’s journey to parenthood, male fertility and sperm health don’t often come to mind. That is until statistics show sperm counts are on the decline in recent years and 40% of fertility issues for couples can be traced back to men. In the lack of discussion and support surrounding male fertility and reproductive health, men are set up for failure before even trying for a baby.
Beli, a fertility and prenatal supplement company, is working to underscore the power of men taking stock of their own fertility health needs, whether that’s through the company’s prenatal vitamins and booster line, or through the education they provide to their community alongside a team of registered dietitians and board-certified physicians. Altogether, Beli is fully dedicated to unapologetically spotlighting the specific ways that sperm health and male fertility play a central role in the conception and development of a healthy baby.
“Not many people know that sperm lays the blueprint for the placenta,” shares Joni Hanson Davis, Founder & CEO of Beli. “We’re here to make it clear that building a family takes two, in so many ways.” In the five years following their men’s prenatal release, Beli has been a pioneer for men’s reproductive health in an industry that’s been slow to respond to scientific advancements in fertility research, namely the role men play. “Here’s the real question we want all men to be able to confidently answer: How can I optimize my sperm health?” Davis’ remark relates to the fact that not only do men’s sperm impact placental makeup, but sperm health also impacts DNA and the fusion process between sperm and egg. “At the earliest stages of creating a new life, men play a massive role. We want them to be more knowledgeable and empowered, yet the fertility conversation is still fixated on only 50% of the equation.”
It comes as no surprise that fertility and reproductive healthcare has historically focused on women’s health or lack thereof. “When it comes to infertility, it’s so common for people to assume it’s the female who’s to ‘blame’, but this is definitely not the case”, shares Cheryl Dowling, Founder of IVF Warrior. Women’s fertility receives air time and clear treatment options, while men are at the mercy of a system that hasn’t caught up to equally account for their health and the emotional support necessary in navigating fertility issues.
The reality is that men not only lack targeted resources but also bear the psychological weight of society’s messaging, which equates men’s fertility with virility. In a 2018 interview study on men with low semen quality, the common theme was a “threatened sense of masculinity” as the participating men expressed feeling like a failure in their inability to get their partner pregnant. Case in point, one interviewee stated: “Now I’m just throwing in the towel and saying: In the tradition of Darwin, I’m not the most fit.” With the life-long ingrained expectation to naturally conceive and become a father, many men struggle with fertility issues alone and in silence. This was the case for Alex, the Founder of Pursuing Fatherhood. “I was lucky to find other people going through the same thing I was. One of the hardest things about male factor infertility is, not only are you dealing with all the grief and emotions of infertility, but you’re also dealing with loneliness.” Men hesitate in identifying that they struggle with fertility issues to avoid appearing less strong and capable, even in the private context of their relationships. “Men often want to be strong for their partner and tend to naturally want to fix things. In the case of fertility health, there isn’t anything they can immediately ‘fix’, which can feel paralyzing”, says Dowling. Fertility is a multidimensional facet of a man’s overall health. While many factors cannot be controlled, there are clear areas where men can take charge of their fertility and sperm health with the proper guidance and support.
“To include and empower men, conversations on fertility care need to be happening early, and often. Anytime we talk about fertility, men need to be on board from day one”, says Davis. “It’s equally important to showcase ways that men can be actively involved in the fertility conversation, not as a last resort and solely for obtaining a sperm sample. The goal here is proactivity, not reactivity.” For Beli, opening up conversations and reducing the stigma of men’s health means providing preconception, lifestyle, and nutrition guidelines early in the family planning process that answer real-life questions men have when it comes to fertility health. For example, addressing how diet, sports supplements, and exercise play a role, and how taking a daily prenatal can be a critical step in their journey.
When it comes to fertility health, even prior to conception, men need the right nutrients. This is such an important factor that experts recommend taking a prenatal six months before trying to conceive. This allows men’s bodies to stock up on essential nutrients to fill in the natural gaps that even a healthy diet can miss and avoid one of the biggest contributors to sperm deficiencies, which is traced to nutritional deficiencies. With each sperm taking three months to mature fully, a daily source of nutrients is vital to develop quality sperm that can properly penetrate the egg. As is the case with women’s prenatals, men need a very specific daily mix of nutrients to support fertility and a healthy pregnancy. Supplementing with nutrients like selenium and zinc protects sperm growth, while vitamins D and E support sperm and egg fusion. More recent findings also showcase the Ayurvedic compound, Shilajit, and its role in boosting fertility and sperm counts. Finally, a consistent routine of obtaining the right nutrition, as with a prenatal, helps support and stabilize testosterone levels during the later stages of pregnancy and postpartum.
At all stages of pregnancy, men are an equal part of the conception and pregnancy equation, yet must carry the weight of society’s expectations in silence without support. With alarming statistics on sperm count and a significant portion of fertility issues traced back to men, the message is clear that the conversation on men’s fertility needs a transformative shift. By challenging the status quo and providing comprehensive education and resources, men can be empowered to take control of their reproductive well-being. Davis expresses an unwavering commitment to amplifying messaging and options to support men and women equally in their plans to have a baby. “Society is at a critical inflection point in realizing that building a family is a shared responsibility. It’s in our collective power to bring biases to light and transform the narrative to support more men in their path to parenthood.”