Know your own fertility – study

Men aspire to parenthood as much as women, but a lack of understanding around their own and their partner’s ticking fertility ‘clocks’ and an overestimation of the chances of getting pregnant by IVF may be contributing to men having unfulfilled parenthood aspirations, a collaborative study has found.

Professor Rob McLachlan outlining his fertility study
Professor Rob McLachlan

Researchers from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and Andrology Australia analysed 43 studies published between 2005 and 2016 investigating men’s fertility-based knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in high-income countries.

There is a growing disconnect between the ideal biological age, and ideal social age, for having children, the results found, which could lead to childlessness or men having fewer children than they had intended. The study was published in the journal, Human Reproduction Update.

“Men almost universally value parenthood – they want to be parents, but they overestimate how easy it is to get pregnant, and see assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF as a solution to infertility,” senior author, Professor Rob McLachlan, of the Hudson Institute and Andrology Australia, said.

“This is pushing them to a later parenthood, whereas the time to become a parent is biologically fixed. Importantly, factors that influence fertility can also influence the health of the baby at birth.

“In public discussion, decreased fertility rates are often attributed to women delaying childbearing to pursue other life goals such as a career or travel. However, evidence suggests the lack of a partner, or a partner willing to commit to parenthood, is the main reason for later childbearing.”

Most men aspire to having at least two children, the study found. They are more likely to want to have children when they are in a stable and loving relationship, have achieved personal maturity, have a dependable income, and a partner who is ‘suitable’ as a potential co-parent.

Yet, the study showed that men have limited knowledge when it comes to both male and female fertility, which may place men and their partners at risk of involuntary childlessness.

In studies across the board, men overestimated the likelihood of spontaneous conception. Only one quarter of men aged 18-29 surveyed in one US study knew that women are more fertile during certain days of their menstrual cycle.

Prof McLachlan says the findings could inform government policy and public health promotion strategies, to educate both men and women about fertility and assist people in fulfilling their parenthood goals, and to reduce the personal and societal cost of assisted reproductive technologies.

“Becoming a parent is a goal that is important to many people, but it requires knowledge of how to fall pregnant when you want to. Information about both pro-fertility and contraception are important for men and women throughout their reproductive lives,” he said.

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