Acupuncture and Fertility

Many healthy couples find they have unknown barriers to becoming pregnant that are beyond the scope of western medicine.  These are often undiagnosed or overlooked, since lab results can be misleading.  This article on Acupuncture and Fertility may answer some questions and inform you on how to proceed.

 Even if you have no physical evidence that would indicate infertility, the 
body must work together in balance.  Undiagnosed food sensitivities, particularly gluten and soy-based, interfere with hormone balance in a way that is difficult to diagnose. Don’t forget about STRESS, this is probably one of the greatest problems facing modern couples. Not only do we have the everyday stress, there is also the psychological stress of trying to conceive. Furthermore, long-term contraceptive use leaves many women in a 
deeply unbalanced state, due to the long-term suppression of their natural healing process. 
At Acupuncture Cork, I use acupuncture, herbs and dietary changes to re-balance the body, and restore it to health and vitality, as well as recommending stress reducing exercise like Tai Chi.  Sometimes, it is advisable to treat both partners.

How long does it take to get results?

This process takes patience, with 6-18 months of regular treatment and strict adherence to dietary changes. While that may sound like a long time, it took time for the body to become out of balance, and it takes time for cells to regenerate and hormones to re balance themselves.  Some of our clients then become pregnant naturally, and others proceed with IVF with much greater success than if they went for IVF without taking the time to put their bodies back in balance.
Please allow a minimum of 3 months/3 menstrual cycles for results.

Once pregnant, many of our fertility clients then continue their acupuncture therapy to eliminate the discomfort associated with pregnancy, such as pain, morning sickness, and insomnia.

Plan a strategy.

If you are considering acupuncture, we encourage you to get in for your initial visit as soon as you can. That way you and your acupuncturist can develop a treatment plan that best suits you, even if you don’t start the treatment plan until later. Getting that first appointment under your belt also allows you the opportunity to determine if acupuncture is right for you and if it is something you want to continue to pursue.
If herbal medicine is advised, they take time to work, so beginning earlier is best. Even if you decide to wait to start acupuncture, don’t wait to start herbal medicine. It takes 4 – 5 months for an egg to mature. If you can get started on a good quality preconception formula 3 – 6 months prior to conception/transfer, your eggs are going to have the opportunity to grow and mature in a nutrient rich environment. Our experience is that women who supplement their diets with appropriate amounts of vitamins and antioxidants typically have embryos with less fragmentation.
Why acupuncture? Blood flow, blood flow, blood flow! This is how we nourish every cell in our bodies. With acupuncture you can increase the blood flow to your internal organs.
Why acupuncture? Acupuncture helps regulate and balance the hormones by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis and is a very important tool in the fertility process.
When treating men and women who are trying to conceive naturally, it is best to treat both partners. When trying to conceive through assisted means it is possible to only treat the woman. If you are going through a fertility procedure and would like to have acupuncture please let me know. I have helped many couples over the past 19 years.
How many treatments are required? This is a question that I hear more frequently than perhaps any other. Before you begin any treatment plan, you want to know what kind of commitment you’re going to have to make both in time and money. Often this question is answered with, “It all depends on your situation”, which is very, very true, but here are some guidelines that should actually give you a little more to work with.

What part of the cycle to start treatment?

If you are a woman seeking help with fertility related issues, naturally or assisted, there are certain times during your cycle that we like to see you.
Generally speaking, the most important times to have acupuncture are:
• During the follicular phase – day 5, 6, 7 or 8 of your menstrual cycle (day 1 being the first day of heavy flow)
• The day before, day of or day after ovulation (as indicated by your LH surge)
• During implantation time (6 – 10 days after ovulation).
This works out to be approximately once a week except when you are menstruating.
If there is something more significant going on, like lining issues for example, your acupuncturist may want to see you twice a week until it is properly addressed. However, the majority of the women we treat fall into the once a week category.
If you are going through an IVF cycle, it is best if you can start acupuncture 6 to 8 weeks prior to transfer. The most important times to have acupuncture are the same as above, however, once you begin your stimulation medications you may be seen twice a week depending upon information gathered from your ultrasounds.
In an ideal world, we would like to begin seeing you 3 – 4 months prior to conception/transfer so that we can help with egg quality, work on any cycle or lining irregularities, address any nutritional concerns, and help reduce stress. If you are going through IVF, FET or DET we are also working to prepare you for your transfer.

Do I need treatment if I get pregnant?

Once you achieve pregnancy, I like to see you once a week through the first trimester to help uphold the pregnancy and assist with any morning sickness symptoms.  During the second and third trimesters, you can have prenatal massages to help keep you nice and relaxed, and acupuncture can be used to help with other discomforts sometimes associated with pregnancy, like sciatica.  Around week 34 – 36 of your pregnancy we begin seeing you once a week for pre-birth acupuncture.
Do you need to come twice a week? Probably not. Do you need to come once a week? It all depends on your particular situation. If you are 4 months away from your IVF transfer, maybe you need to come every two weeks. If you’re 60 days away, maybe once a week. If your lining is thin, maybe twice a week. It really and truly does depend on where you are in the process, what specific difficulties you are experiencing, and how you are responding to your treatments.
Studies have found that miscarriages were 2.7 times more likely among women with increased cortisol levels.  Miscarriages happened after an average of about two weeks of pregnancy.  90% of women with high cortisol levels miscarried in the first three weeks of pregnancy.  33% of women with normal cortisol levels miscarried in the first three weeks of pregnancy.
To keep cortisol levels healthy and under control, the body’s relaxation response must be activated. You can learn to relax your body with various stress management techniques, and you can make lifestyle changes in order to keep your body from reacting to stress in the first place. The following have been found by many to be very helpful in relaxing the body and mind, aiding the body in maintaining healthy cortisol levels:
• Acupuncture 
• Massage 
• Tai Chi 
• Listening to Music 
• Breathing Exercises 
• Meditation 
• Exercise 
• Yoga
Acupuncture and massage are proven effective stress reducers.
I have seen people conceive who do nothing more than reducing the stress in their lives, despite having numerous failed IVF treatments.

Article on Stress:


So how long does this take?

In general, when we talk about treating any condition related to menstruation or fertility in women, the standard course of treatment will take at least three months of consistent treatment. This is especially true with couples who are still trying to conceive naturally. Unfortunately, one or two treatments of acupuncture, or one week on herbs, will do very little to enhance fertility. Women who undergo IVF or artificial insemination however may still benefit from fewer treatments, although again, one or two treatments are not going to do it. The protocol used in this clinic for patients undergoing IVF treatments is to have them begin weekly treatments as soon as possible before the actual transfer and usually the patient should expect to have at the very least one month of regular treatments. Beginning about one month before embryo transfer, acupuncture is done twice weekly. Then, the actual day of the transfer we treat the mother-to-be both before and after the procedure to try to ensure optimal conditions for embryo implantation. Some women elect to pursue Chinese herbal therapies along side IVF treatments. Some western doctors feel comfortable with this and some do not, so it is a personal decision that varies from patient to patient. According to Chinese doctors acupuncture may increase IVF success rates by up to 35%. However, when acupuncture and Chinese herbal therapies are combined and performed by a fully licensed and trained practitioner, the success rates can be increased by as much as 60%. 

And what about the men?

Issues with male fertility can also treated with both acupuncture and herbs. In my experience however, men are less willing to be treated, leaving the burden to their female partner. Sometimes when there are problems with sperm quality, fertility specialists will inject a single sperm into an egg cell during an IVF round (a process known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection). Couples are then led to believe that even with poor sperm, an ideal and healthy pregnancy can still be achieved. Many men decide against TCM treatment because this procedure (IVF) gives then an “easy out” so to speak. Oriental Medicine believes that by far the best results come when both the male and female partners receive treatment of some sort – either acupuncture or herbs, or both. The couples that consistently get pregnant in a shorter period of time are those where both partners receive some sort of TCM treatment

What now?

Please also remember that the mind is a tremendous tool for wellbeing. In my experience some sort of relaxation therapy is one of the best treatments for infertility, especially in younger women where nothing seems to actually be wrong. Qigong, Tai Chi and Yoga are systems which provide exercise and relaxation as well as stimulating energy. A moderate diet and lifestyle are extremely important as well. If you are interested in TCM treatment either as a primary or adjunct therapy for fertility issues the good news is that TCM professionals can be found almost everywhere today. A fully trained practitioner of TCM will have professional training in both acupuncture and Chinese Herbal MedicineAcupuncture and IVF

Increases the possibility of IVF success by improving diminished ovarian reserve markers
Normalizes menstrual cycle and hormone levels
Increases your likelihood of a successful birth by supporting your body’s overall health during pregnancy
Improves pregnancy outcomes if you have experienced recurrent pregnancy loss
Increases blood flow to your uterus and ovaries, which can improve the quality of your eggs and heighten your chances of a successful implantation
Returns ovulation if you have stopped ovulating because of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Acupuncture and IVF

If using Acupuncture to assist IVF treatment, here are some facts about how acupuncture can help this process:

  1. Acupuncture improves blood flow
    One of the first orders of business in supporting reproduction is to ensure your reproductive organs are receiving adequate nourishment. Stress and/or aging can lead to a decline in blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. Acupuncture can increase blood flow by slowing down (or “down-regulating”) the nervous system (central sympathetic nervous system) which then causes the blood vessels to dilate. When the vessels dilate, they release a flood of nutrient dense blood to the ovaries and uterus. Increased ovarian blood flow may help with response to fertility medications. Increased uterine blood flow ensures a thick uterine lining and sets up an ideal environment for implantation. Better response, better eggs, better lining.
  2. Acupuncture reduces stress
    Couples undergoing fertility treatments experience immense amounts of stress. It is a common reason for stopping treatment altogether. Acupuncture can help reduce the stress. Research shows that when needles are placed in the skin, the body releases its own natural pain killers (endorphins). Endorphins are responsible for the relaxed feeling one gets after a session. It causes your muscles to relax, your breathing to slow, and your mind to calm. This blissful benefit from acupuncture was cited by IVF patients as helping them feel more relaxed during their fertility treatment, and as a result, also feel more “in control.”
  3. Acupuncture improves your odds of having a baby with IVF.
    The ultimate goal is to have a healthy mother and baby and to give yourself the best chance of success. In some studies, acupuncture performed on the day the embryo is placed back in the uterus improved pregnancy rates when compared to a control.
    Recommended acupuncture treatments are around 13 to 15 sessions. The women who added more acupuncture sessions were twice as likely to have a baby compared to women who did IVF alone, and 60% more likely when compared with women who just had two acupuncture treatments on the day of embryo transfer. Acupuncture helped their IVF outcomes. The key difference was that patients received more treatment.

If you have any further questions, or would like to make an appointment:

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Phone: 087 2744735

Article in EveryMum about acupuncture and fertility:

David Hankey

Hi, I’m David Hankey and I have been studying and practicing oriental health systems for more than 30 years.