I have spent the past 20+ years supporting hundreds of couples on the path to becoming parents. Whether trying naturally or going through IVF I find acupuncture to be the best therapy to support female and male fertility.
Acupuncture is part of Chinese medicine, a system that encompasses both the body and the mind. In this form of medicine, a woman’s menstrual cycle is seen as the foundation of health and our aim is to help bring the body and mind back into balance. Acupuncture is one of the safest and oldest forms of treatment available today; it has an extremely long recorded history of efficacy.
Acupuncturists use tiny needles, inserted at specific points on the surface of the skin that either activate or inhibit the flow of energy with the aim to create balance and harmony in the body for wellbeing and health. There are acupuncture points all over the body, xwhich act as gateways to the flow of energy, called Qi in Chinese medicine, throughout the body.
Over thousands of years, practitioners have discovered which combinations of needles do what, and with this knowledge can treat a wide variety of conditions. The most documented use of acupuncture is in treating chronic pain, and there are now early studies to suggest that acupuncture may help during the IVF process.
What to expect
During the first acupuncture treatment a practitioner will take a full medical case history including past health background and details about the current condition. The practitioner will carry out pulse taking on each wrist and look at a patient’s tongue. Once the patient is settled on the treatment couch, tiny needles are inserted into acupuncture points at various sites on the body where they are retained for about 20-30 minutes.
The process is not painful, although there is often some mild sensation and the patient can feel very relaxed during and after the treatment. The practitioner will make a treatment plan which may include lifestyle and dietary advice as well as a schedule for acupuncture. Normally you will be seen for a course of treatments. It is important that you have a good rapport with the practitioner and they have a thorough understanding of fertility, IVF and drug protocols.
During IVF it is likely that you will be asked to come back at specific times during the cycle. In my clinic we commonly see people on a weekly basis to support natural conception; during IVF this might be more frequently.
An integrated approach
The way we use acupuncture in clinic today is as part of an integrated approach, in that we work closely with many experts in Western medicine, with a shared goal of optimising fertility. For example, it is now widely accepted that women who have acupuncture during IVF are more likely to go on to have a successful embryo transfer procedure and live birth. I see acupuncture as the ‘fine-tuning’; gently increasing the patient’s blood flow to her follicles and womb lining, helping to calm any anxiety and post-transfer helping to stop contractions and therefore aid implantation.
Acupuncture during IVF
During the IVF cycle, I give acupuncture in the ‘stimulation phase’ to help pelvic blood flow and encourage the follicles to grow evenly on both sides. I advise eating plenty of good protein and blood nourishing foods, which I will detail later, and getting plenty of rest. If a patient has had difficulties with egg collection in previous cycles, I may suggest acupuncture the day before to help with relaxation.
Acupuncture in between egg collection and transfer is used to help with blood flow, relieve bloating and encourage receptivity. Warming foods are encouraged, as is keeping warm and relaxed. I also see patients in the days after transfer to help calm the mind during the two-week wait. I have included lots of additional tips for keeping the mind calm, and helping with the symptoms that women commonly report to me during IVF cycles; from headaches to constipation and problems sleeping.
If you do seek complementary support such as during IVF (or any fertility treatment) then do talk this through with your specialist or consultant because it will be very helpful for them to be aware of all your treatment.