Traditional acupuncture is increasingly used by couples who are trying to conceive, either naturally, as a support to IVF or other assisted reproductive techniques (ART) such as Clomid stimulated cycles, IVF, IUI, ICSI, or donated egg cycles - or when these have failed to give them a child.
Women may have received a diagnosis of unexplained infertility or of conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), tubal problems, recurrent ectopic pregnancy, recurrent miscarriage or ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) on previous IVF cycles.
Acupuncture may be able to counteract stress and regulate hormonal balance, both factors that affect fertility. Stress and anxiety are unfortunately often present when trying to conceive.
Acupuncture treatment is adjusted to the phase of the menstrual cycle (or to re-start the menstrual cycle in the absence of periods). Basal body temperature charting can give very useful information from an Oriental Medicine point of view so I may ask you to chart your temperature for a few months. With both male and female infertility I can also offer information about lifestyle factors - exercise, stress, and certain nutrients that have been shown to affect fertility. In some circumstances I may recommend Chinese herbal medicine from a colleague with whom I work closely.
In the very distressing situation of recurrent miscarriage, acupuncture can be aimed at supporting emotional balance, facilitating moving through grief and allowing the body to restore, and then at addressing the underlying diagnosis.
When working with fertility it makes sense to check the male partner’s fertility status. Problems may include a low sperm count, irregular sperm shape (morphology) or problems with sperm movement (motility), erectile dysfunction, hormonal imbalances or retrograde ejaculation.
It takes around 11 weeks for days for sperm to be replaced so I recommend three months of preparation. Acupuncture treatments for male infertility need to be weekly or more so Chinese herbs are often the preferred option for the long term, with some weekly acupuncture treatments at the beginning followed by monthly acupuncture.
Acupuncture is becoming increasingly known about and sought after as a support for an IVF cycle and several studies have shown an increase in successful outcomes using acupuncture around embryo transfer. You can view the abstract of the most well-known of these, which found a 16% increase in pregnancies to term, here.
During an IVF cycle the goal of treatment will change according to the phase of the cycle. For example during the stimulation phase treatment goals would include increasing blood flow to the uterus and ovaries and encouraging building of the endometrium, whereas around the trigger injection and egg collection treatment goals would include supporting the growth and maturation of the follicles and relieving abdominal distention and any other side effects.
For women who have been through an unsuccessful IVF cycle I recommend at least three months of preparation with acupuncture, lifestyle measures and possibly Chinese herbs, aimed at increasing nourishment and circulation to the ovaries and creating a balanced hormonal environment. In an ideal situation preparation with acupuncture and lifestyle measures would be started 6-9 months before an IVF cycle, though it is rare than someone who has reached the point of considering IVF is in a position to do this kind of preparation and often anything is better than nothing, as the increased pregnancy rates with acupuncture around embryo transfer mentioned above demonstrate.
Paloma has completed additional training in acupuncture for fertility and IVF and is a member of the Acupuncture Fertility Network (AFN).