Low sperm motility – what is it?
During the last couple of years, men’s sperm motility has been a regular topic of interest amongst fertility scientists. The low sperm motility among men contributes to the rise in couples needing fertility treatment in their pursuit of a child. In this blog post, we examine what low sperm motility is, typical causes, and how to improve it.
What is low sperm motility?
Sperm motility is an expression of the quality and can be determined in a sperm analysis. Low sperm motility is defined by a lot of factors, such as the size and shape of the sperm cell, how many active cells per million, and if they move quickly and efficiently toward their target, the egg.
According to a 2021 WHO report, an ejaculation should contain at least 42 % motile sperm cells and at least 30 % progressive sperm cells. If your motility is below this, you are considered to have low sperm motility.
Causes for low sperm motility
There can be different causes to low sperm motility – some are temporary and easy to change, while others are more long-lasting and perhaps even permanent. This means that a man’s sperm motility can vary a lot from week to week, which is important to keep in mind. If you at some point experience low sperm motility, it does not mean that you cannot have children of your own someday. Some of the causes for low sperm motility is:
- An unhealthy lifestyle is one of the most important reasons for low sperm motility. Factors such as smoking, an unhealthy diet and alcohol can influence the sperm quality negatively.
- Another important lifestyle trait that can lower sperm motility is exposure of the testicles to heat. Warm places like hot tubs, saunas, and solariums should be avoided. The same goes for tight underwear which can have a negative effect on sperm motility because of the heat it generates. Low sperm motility can also be caused by a genital infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
- For some men, low sperm motility is genetically determined and is not caused by any outside factors. This was the case for Enrico, who wanted to start a family with his wife Verena. The couple struggled with infertility and discovered that he had no active sperm cells. Fortunately, it is possible to have a child with help from a sperm donor. Read the story about the Italian couple using a sperm donor to get pregnant here.
In the video below, Allan Pacey, who is an expert in male infertility talks about the problem with low sperm motility and quality and how men experience this.
How to increase your sperm motility
Sperm motility can for most men be improved through a couple of lifestyle changes. Just be aware that it takes about three months for the sperm quality to visibly improve, which means you should begin at least three months before you start trying for a baby.
Eat food that helps increase your sperm motility
A focus on diet is an important factor in increasing your sperm motility. A healthy and varied diet with fruit and vegetables contains a lot of antioxidants, which is linked with high sperm quality. In the list below, we have gathered some food that is said to have a positive impact on sperm motility include:
- Whole cereals
- Maca roots
Raising your low sperm motility through exercise
Another way of improving the quality of your sperm could be through regular exercise. Studies have shown that men who exercise regularly have a higher level of sperm count. If you start to exercise to raise your sperm motility, it is important to do it regularly and not overdo it. Too much exercise can have the opposite effect and lower your sperm motility.
Can you get pregnant with low sperm motility?
If you have low sperm motility it is still possible to conceive naturally, as the motility can vary over time. A fertility doctor will often encourage you and your partner to try for a certain period. During this period, the doctor will most likely recommend that you have sex every 2-3 days to maximise your chances of obtaining a pregnancy.
It is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet during this period, and you should also try to keep your consumption of alcohol and smoking to a minimum. A lot of couples get pregnant during this period, but if this is not the case for you, there are fertility treatments you can use to help you and your partner conceive.
Types of treatment for men with low sperm motility
If you have been trying to get pregnant for a year or longer without success, you are, according to WHO, experiencing infertility, and you might need help in your journey towards parenthood. In most countries there are fertility treatments available at the hospitals or privately at the fertility clinics, that can help you and your partner become parents. In the following we introduce you to three different types of fertility treatment.
IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) is the type of treatment where the doctor injects sperm directly into the woman’s uterus. If you have a low sperm motility, using IUI treatment allows your sperm cells to start closer to the egg, which increases the chance of a sperm cell fertilizing the egg.
The procedure is very popular because it is both quick and nearly pain-free. If you wish to receive IUI treatment it will be performed at a fertility clinic.
IVF treatment, also known as In Vitro Fertilization, is a method of assisted reproduction. The term in vitro means “in a glass” which the method is called, because the egg is fertilized manually with the sperm in a petri dish. After fertilization, an embryo takes form, which the doctor then transfers from the petri glass to the uterus where, hopefully, a successful pregnancy occurs.
ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) is a type of IVF technique where a single sperm cell is injected directly into the egg to fertilise it. Because the sperm cell is injected directly into the egg, the fertility treatment is a good option when dealing with low sperm motility. The treatment can also be recommended if no or few eggs has been fertilized at previous attempts with IVF treatment.
ICSI treatment with donor sperm is an option if the man has no healthy sperm cells.
What are your options if you cannot achieve pregnancy using your own sperm?
If you do not achieve pregnancy after having fertility treatment, and the infertility is caused by low sperm motility, using donor sperm for fertility treatment can be a good option to achieve your dream of a child. Many couples turn to this solution when facing infertility problems, and even though it might not be the way you initially imagined starting your family, the couples using donor sperm to conceive, become happy parents to healthy children. If you are experiencing male infertility problems and are curious about conceiving with help from a sperm donor, you can read more about the reasons for using donor sperm to get pregnant and see our selection of donors in our Sperm Donor Search.
If you want to read some personal stories on male infertility, we can recommend our blog post about Johan and his role as a dad to a donor-conceived child.