Acupuncture support for fertility and pregnancy

“Acupuncture can increase the chances of getting pregnant for women undergoing fertility treatment by 65%”*

Many patients seek acupuncture support with their fertility and pregnancy. Some come to try to promote their natural fertility, others come as they are experiencing problems conceiving and some come as they are preparing for IUI, IVF or ICSI.
Oriental Medicine has the phrase “Cultivate the soil before you plant the seed.” This is a cornerstone to Chinese Medicine’s approach to fertility treatment. The optimum time to treat someone is prior to their conception; in other words, both parents should be brought to optimum health prior to conceiving. Chinese Medicine holds the view that this period will determine the health of the sperm and the egg and that optimising both parents health prior to conception delivers maxim constitutional health to the new born child. For the mother-to-be, treatment also occurs during the pregnancy for this same reason.
I often support patients through their IVF treatment and in particular on the day of embryo transfer. Several clinical studies have shown that acupuncture dramatically increases the success rate of IVF cycles.
The first written evidence of acupuncture’s use in the treatment of fertility dates back over two thousand years to 3AD. In more recent times, Western science has established the following proven benefits that acupuncture offers to reproductive health:
Increases the chance of pregnancy for women undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF).Encourages embryo implantation and supports IVF and ICSI. It is recommended that women having an embryo transfer receive acupuncture before and after the transfer. See Guardian article above for more details.
Regulates the menstrual cycle
Can counteract the effects of polycystic ovaries
Reduces high FSH levels. Follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) has to reach a certain level to signal the release of an egg for ovulation to occur. As women become older and their ovarian reserve (the number of eggs they have) declines, their level of FSH can increase. Ideal levels for FSH are under 6, 6-8 is normal, 8-10 is fair, 10-12 suggests lower than normal ovarian reserve, 12-17 indicates lower still reserves, and more than 17 generally suggests a very poor response to assisted conception techniques. However anecdotal evidence from acupuncture practitioners such as Zita West and Randine Lewis, suggests that women with high FSH levels have gone on to have successful pregnancies.
Eases the symptoms of endometriosis and aids successful conception
Invigorates sperm, enhancing both sperm count and motility.
Strengthens the immune system and enhances general health.
Reduce stress, control anxiety, enhance sleep and increase energy level.
Balances endocrine system, regulates hormones and improves egg quality.
Increases blood flow to the uterus, improving endometrial lining (implantation). Improves blood flow to the ovaries, increasing ovarian response – more follicles and better egg production.
Lessens the side effects associated with hormonal treatment.
Reduces risk of miscarriage and increase live birth rate. Treatment is usually offered up to 12-14 weeks and also helps the woman manage her anxiety and stress around the pregnancy. An American study found that women who conceived through IVF who had acupuncture had a 0.8% miscarriage rate compared to 20% of women who did not have acupuncture. The live birth rate for each IVF cycle was 23% higher than in the control group. (American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Oct 2004).
Stress has been proven to dramatically decrease fertility for both men and women and consequently acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can dramatically increase fertility by reducing stress if this is a prevailing factor.
It is however surprising how many patients become pregnant after commencing treatment. I believe that in many of these cases stress had been a significant factor. The process of trying to conceive is in itself very stressful for many couples and the patient’s active involvement in the whole treatment process delivers a greater sense of control, which had previously seemed unattainable. This increased sense of control, combined with acupuncture is often enough to bring about a successful conception.
Self Help
These are some of the things you can do, in addition to having acupuncture, to encourage fertility:
Come off the contraceptive pill some time before you start trying for a child. Even though there is a suggestion that fertility increases in the first one or two months immediately after coming off the contraceptive pill, it is recommended that you allow one month off for each year that you have been on the pill.
Stop smoking – smoking can cause irreversible effects on ovarian function by accelerating the loss of eggs. It also increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, significantly reduces the chances of a successful outcome of IVF, and lowers male fertility (sperm count, motility and increased abnormalities). Passive smoking is also seriously damaging to female fertility. Visit Infertility Health Information website for some good advice and information about optimal sperm health.
Significantly reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol inhibits ovulation and impairs the sperm’s ability to move through the fallopian tubes.
Cut out marijuana. Even moderate consumption of marijuana has a toxic effect on the developing egg and impairs ovulation.
Eat a healthy, well balanced diet. Make sure you get enough Vitamin E and B including folic acid.
*Published Guardian Newspaper February 8, 2008.