Can Your Sperm Quality Impact Your Child’s Health?

Written by: Dr. Brian Steixner

Understanding Male Factor Infertility and Sperm Quality

Male factor infertility encompasses abnormalities in semen parameters or sexual function, contributing to approximately 50% of infertility cases. Common abnormalities include low semen volume, concentration, motility, and abnormal sperm morphology. Severe male infertility is marked by extremely low sperm concentration or absence of sperm in a man's ejaculation. Does poor sperm quality have an impact on the health of babies born to these men? Let's look at the data.

Exploring the Role of Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)

In 1992, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) revolutionized the treatment of severe male factor infertility in assisted reproductive technology (ART). Unlike conventional in vitro fertilization (IVF), which relies on optimal sperm function, ICSI involves directly injecting a single sperm into an egg. While ICSI has helped many couples conceive, concerns persist about the health and development of resulting children due to bypassing natural sperm selection and using potentially unhealthy sperm.

Concerns Regarding Genetic Transmission and Lifestyle Factors

The first significant worry of poor sperm quality is the transmission of genetic disorders to their children. Men with severe male infertility are at higher risk of genetic abnormalities, including chromosomal abnormalities in their children. Additionally, poor sperm health, because of lifestyle choices by the man, may continue and affect the children's health.

Can Your Sperm Quality Impact Your Child’s Health?

Investigating Long-Term Health Outcomes

Numerous studies have investigated the long-term health of ICSI-conceived children, revealing potential risks such as neurodevelopmental disorders and cardiometabolic issues. However, findings vary, and distinguishing whether these are the effects of poor sperm health or from other items, such as the IVF process or egg health, is difficult.

Nuanced Analysis of ICSI Outcomes

Historically, ICSI was primarily used for severe male infertility, complicating comparisons with naturally conceived children. However, recent decades have seen a surge in ICSI use for milder male infertility and other reasons, allowing for a more nuanced analysis of outcomes based on infertility type and severity. Understanding these outcomes is crucial for counseling couples and improving IVF practices to promote the health of these babies.

Evaluating Risks and Uncertainties

Recent large-scale studies suggest that severe male factor infertility and the use of ICSI might slightly elevate the risk of mental retardation and autism in offspring. However, there are conflicting findings regarding how much each factor contributes to such risks. Research on different health outcomes, especially beyond early childhood, is limited but indicates potential concerns such as changes in body composition during adolescence and the presence of sperm abnormalities in adult males conceived through ICSI. The specific influence of sperm quality on these outcomes remains uncertain and needs more studies.

Promoting Healthy Practices for Future Fathers

With the growing number of couples using IVF for infertility, there is an opportunity to better understand how sperm characteristics affect childhood outcomes. As of now, there are several concerns. Men currently considering IVF or worried about their sperm health should make some changes. A healthy diet, using a daily fertility supplement, consistent exercise schedules, stress reduction, and adequate sleep are reasonable first steps. They may have a significant impact on reducing potential health issues for their babies.

Dr. Brian Steixner

Dr. Brian Steixner

Dr. Brian Steixner is a board-certified urologist and an expert in men’s sexual medicine. He completed his General Surgery and Urology training at The University of Pennsylvania and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one of the busiest and most comprehensive programs in the nation. During his career, Brian has treated thousands of men with sexual health issues including male factor infertility.