Acupuncture and Fertility: What You Need to Know
There’s a lot of information out there, so I thought it would make sense to give you my perspective and share my experience treating patients with fertility issues. I hope you find the information helpful. Feel free to email me directly with any follow-up questions.
The Truth About Acupuncture and Fertility
Over the past several years there has been a great deal of press about both about the increase in western fertility treatments and the use of acupuncture in the treatment of fertility.
In my view, the media attention is both positive and negative. It is a relief for many to finally know that they are not alone in their struggles, and that there are many treatment options available. But it has also drawn a lot of attention to what I feel is a very damaging and extremely overused word: “infertility.”
Infertility means the inability to conceive. Very few couples out of the thousands who receive treatment are actually infertile. They may have challenges, but I see women every day with a technical diagnosis of “infertility” who go on to conceive and birth a healthy child. Words, especially those spoken by a respected and trusted doctor, are powerful. I would encourage women not to embrace or use that word when they are facing challenges with conceiving.
Consistently over my seven years in private practice, fertility challenges have been one of the most common conditions I treat. Like any other condition, I spend a lot of time talking to each patient and determining what underlying imbalances are going on that are preventing her body from conceiving or from holding the pregnancy.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have a lot to offer those struggling to conceive as well as those with a painful history of miscarriage. We work together to find the best treatment strategy for each person. Some people are using acupuncture as an adjunct to western fertility treatments. Others are looking for assistance as they try to conceive without medical intervention. In either case, Chinese medicine can increase the success rate of healthy pregnancy and improve physical and emotional health during the process. Here is an article that summarizes what research is showing about the use of acupuncture for fertility, including the latest data published by the British Medical Journal, which reports across seven separate studies that acupuncture improves the success rate of IVF by 65%.
Preparing Your Body to Conceive
The most important thing you can do when you are trying to conceive is to take care of your body. When we are tired, sick, stressed out, hungry, etc., the biological response is for our bodies to take care of its basic needs first. Nature seems to know that in order to nourish and care for another life, we need to take care of ourselves first. It’s like they tell you on airplanes, “Place your own oxygen mask on before helping small children.” Make it a priority to get enough rest, eat proper meals, get regular exercise, and do what you can to manage your stress. Easy for me to say, right? Here are some tips to help:
1. Get plenty of rest. Most of us do not. Depending on your own particular life challenges, this may mean leaving the dishes in the sink, giving up the nightly news, finding natural ways to help if there are issues of insomnia or poor quality sleep. Stress reduction techniques, guided meditation, acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine can all help with this.
2. Eat well. To better understand what kinds of food are most beneficial for your own body and imbalances, consult a licensed acupuncturist. Here are some general dietary recommendations for anyone trying to take care of their health and to conceive:
- Keep your home and office stocked with plenty of healthy foods, including protein, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Try to eliminate processed foods and foods with hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
- I strongly recommend choosing organic meat and produce and avoiding any meat or dairy products from animals that are fed hormones and antibiotics. Synthetic estrogen substances used in pesticides and animal feed can occupy estrogen receptor sites in our bodies and throw off regular functioning of our endocrine system.
- Incorporate essential fatty acids in the form of wild fish and/or flax and organic eggs.
- Decrease cold and iced food and beverages. Warm, cooked foods are much more strengthening to Spleen and Kidney energy.
3. Decrease or eliminate the use of caffeine and alcohol. QUIT SMOKING! (Acupuncture can help with this.)
4. Exercise. Keep that qi flowing! I would not encourage extremely vigorous exercise, especially if your body is not accustomed to that level of exertion. Walking, T’ai Chi, yoga, and swimming are all excellent ways to keep your energy moving and to help with stress reduction and improve the quality of your energy and your sleep.
5. Don’t forget the guys. Men should be cautious of alcohol use and hot tub use. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can also help male factor fertility issues.
6. Visualization. There are many, many ways to go about this. Some people can do this on their own, take a few minutes each day to meditate and create their own visualization of what their body needs. Others do very well with a class or guidance from a CD. There are numerous stress-reduction, guided meditation CDs out there, and many related directly to fertility (check Amazon!). Here’s a great set of CDs with guided meditations that relate directly to each phase of the IVF cycle.
7. Be proactive. There is a program through the Domar Center for Mind Body Health in Waltham specifically aimed at teaching couples mind/body techniques for managing the stress and emotional roller coaster of fertility challenges. In my own practice, I have seen a higher success rate of pregnancy in those couples who have attended this program. Browse the website while you are there for other good information about stress and fertility. This is another good source for guided meditation CDs.
If you or someone you know is dealing with fertility issues, call 508-829-8094 or email me and let’s set up an appointment to talk.