Trying to Get Pregnant? 5 Reasons Why Acupuncture Is For You
Pregnancy is one of the most fascinating phenomenon’s on the planet. There are significant physical, mental, and emotional changes that occur throughout the whole process. If you are one of the lucky ones where getting pregnant is easy, this article isn’t for you. But if you, or someone you know, is having challenges, acupuncture for fertility can help. Any symptom or condition, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is just a signal that something is out of balance. The foundation of TCM is to find this imbalance within the organs, organ systems, or channels, and re-direct and re-establish the correct energy flow so everything functions properly. A homeostatic internal environment provides an optimal condition for a healthy and happy baby.
I always recommend my patients to see their doctors before, or in conjunction with, acupuncture for fertility treatments. Some important questions I will ask during your first visit:
- Are you ovulating?
- What are your cycles like? (number of days, quality and quantity, regularity, other symptoms)
- Do you have a history of endometriosis, PCOS, or any other conditions?
- Have you been pregnant before, and carried full-term?
- How were previous pregnancies and deliveries?
- Have your hormones been tested? Thyroid?
- Any previous surgeries, traumas, illnesses?
- Has your partner been tested for sperm quantity, quality and motility?
- What is your current lifestyle (diet / stress / activity / emotional health)
TCM likes to see how all organ systems are working, so I will also like to hear about your sleep, digestion, energy, among many other things. I’ve often had patients come to me after their doctors find nothing “wrong” in their bloodwork. If this is you, acupuncture can potentially help. We don’t need a medical ‘condition’ to treat you. We treat what we see, and often times it’s completely different than a Western diagnosis or lack thereof. The only condition I haven’t seen acupuncture work for fertility is blocked fallopian tubes. If you are considering acupuncture, read on to find out how acupuncture can help infertility.
1) Regulates Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation.
You need to ovulate to conceive a baby. And just because you get your period every month does not necessarily mean you are ovulating. A regular cycle can range from 25 – 35 days, and ovulation occurs mid-cycle (day 14-16) where there is an LH surge and an egg gets released to be fertilized. According to Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM), there is a delicate balance of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and reproductive glands to create ovulation. You can usually tell when you ovulate by a change in consistency of vaginal mucous (thick, sticky, egg-white is the best), and there are at-home tests you can use to track it. One of the first things we do in TCM is to regulate your cycle – too light, too heavy, irregular, painful, or non-existent needs to be addressed. A regular cycle means there is a better chance you are ovulating every month. There are points in the ear and along the channels of the body to stimulate the thyroid, endocrine, and reproductive systems. According to Heidi Brockmyere, a fertility acupuncturist, “your hormones orchestrate the entire fertility process form the building of your uterine lining, maturation and release of your egg, ovulation, implantation, pregnancy, you’re your period.”
- According to Infertility Acupuncture Information Research, one of the causes of anovulation (not-ovulating) is a condition called LUFS (luteinized unruptured follicle syndrome). It can affect 25-43% of women with infertility, and basically means that it the follicle won’t rupture mid-cycle to release the mature egg. In the Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science, 29 LUFS studies from China were reviewed, and they found acupuncture (and Chinese herbs) increased ovulation and pregnancy rate over standard Western prescriptions (Chlomiphene or hCG injections), with no side effects.
- Vitalis Acupuncture explains that acupuncture triggers an increase in neurotransmitter adenosine by 24-times, and can restore ovulation by normalizing the sympathetic nervous system.
- According to the American Pregnancy Association, acupuncture can affect hormonal balance in multiple ways. It addresses conditions that affect fertility such as an over-active (hyper) or under-active (hypo) thyroid. Acupuncture combined with herbal medicine can also treat elevated FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), repeated or threatened miscarriage, unexplained infertility, luteal phase defect, PCOS, and male factor including men affected with sperm-DNA-fragmentation.
- US News explains that acupuncture can help activate the brain to release hormones that will stimulate the ovaries, adrenal glands and other organs that are involved in reproduction, as well as stimulating sperm production in men.
Many women who are trying to get pregnant are often coming off of many years of birth control. Birth control alters your hormones, and can take some time to re-regulate itself. Acupuncture and herbs can help you transition off of BC and into your body’s natural rhythm. Stress, environment, diet, and many factors can also affect your hormones. TCM is a great tool to get your body functioning at it’s optimum.
2) Increases Blood Flow to the Uterus.
The uterus is where the egg implants and where your baby lives and grows during the 40 weeks of gestation. You want this place to be as healthy as possible so you can not only implant an egg, but also carry the baby to full-term. According to the American Pregnancy Association, before pregnancy your uterus is the size of an orange, and by the end of the third trimester it will literally be the size of a watermelon.
According to Fox News, acupuncture for fertility is two-fold: it increases circulation to the ovaries, which creates healthier eggs, and also to the uterus, which creates a healthy thick lining (endometrium) to carry that egg to full-term. This is huge. Think about this for a minute : acupuncture can literally affect the quality of your eggs and your internal environment to be able to have a healthy pregnancy. Threatened miscarriage and repeated miscarriages is not uncommon, and TCM is a safe and gentle tool for these conditions.
3) Decreases Stress (for Women and Men).
One of the most amazing benefits of acupuncture is that it can profoundly calm the nervous system, and brings the body from stress (sympathetic) into parasympathetic (relaxation) mode. When people are under stress, the hormone cortisol is released in the brain. This alters the brain’s neurochemical balance, changing hormone levels, and disrupting the pituitary balance that is key to the reproductive cycle.
In women, stress can create spasms in the fallopian tubes and uterus, and can interfere with the implantation of a fertilized egg. Stress can impact the menstrual cycle and often delay it or stop it completely for a period of time. Stress can also impact sleep, digestion, appetite, and libido, energy – all of which impacts our internal environment.
In men, stress can alter sperm count, motility, mobility, and quantity. According to Medical News Today, researchers said stress could activate the release of glucocorticoids (steroid hormone), which can reduce testosterone levels and sperm production. It could also trigger oxidative stress (actual damage of the cells by free radicals), which is associated with sperm quality. The researchers found that men who experienced 2 or more stressful life experiences in the past year had a lower percentage of sperm motility (movement) and morphology (shape), compared to those who did not experience any stressful life events.
According to Vitalis Acupuncture, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center made a huge discovery when it comes to stress and acupuncture. They discovered that acupuncture interferes with the very mechanism of stress. It blocks the chronic, stress-induced elevations of the HPA axis hormones and the sympathetic NPY pathway. The HPA axis is important in regulating hormones and many other processes.
Through regular acupuncture treatments you could significantly reduce the affect of stress on your body. Not only will you feel more calm and relaxed, but your organ systems will be functioning better.
4) Helps w/ Western Fertility Treatments (IVF/IUI).
A lot of people ask if it’s safe to do acupuncture along with their IVF/IUI treatments. YES. In fact, it may create a better environment for the egg to implant and carry to full-term.
- According to PCOM, when used with Western fertility treatments, acupuncture increases conception rates by 26%.
- A Tel Aviv University reports that combining TCM with IUI, 65% of the test group were able to conceive, compared with 39.4% of the control group.
- Research studies have shown that acupuncture decreases prolactin levels (you need low levels of prolactin to get pregnant) in women undergoing IVF. This study showed that women who had acupuncture plus standard treatment had a 43% pregnancy rate vs 20% of the standard treatment alone. Women getting acupuncture also had fewer side effects and a much better response to drugs used during treatment.
- Several studies have found that women who get acupuncture treatments have a higher rate of pregnancy and births. It can help with conditions that interfere with getting pregnant like PCOS, during IVF, or simply to reduce stress, because stress levels lower fertility hormones like progesterone.
- According to a study in the British Medical Journal (Acupuncture in Medicine), the rates of embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy, and live birth rates were higher in patients who received acupuncture leading to the transfer.
- This same study found significant measurable changes in endometrium (uterine lining). Acupuncture improved the chances of triple-line pattern endometrial lining (associated w/ good IVF outcome), and blood supply to the lining, which is important in implantation. Lastly it improved HOXA10 expression, which is associated with good pregnancy outcomes and endometrial receptivity. HOXA10 expression is lower in women with endometriosis and PCOS.
- According to Fox News, acupuncture 30 minutes before and after IVF transfer increases the chance the embryo will be implanted successfully and will reduce the chance of miscarriage. This research team showed in various studies that there were fewer miscarriages, pregnancies increased by 24-40%, and 7-11% higher birth rate on those getting acupuncture.
How often should you come in when planning your IVF/IUI treatment? Ideally 1-2x/week for a 3-month cycle prior to your Western treatment. Let’s say you don’t have that much time, and still are wondering about getting acupuncture…. YES. Any treatment is better than none at all. Acupuncture is a gentle yet extremely powerful treatment that can help you any step of the way.
5) Helps Make Better Sperm.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, around 40% of infertility is caused by the male partner. Just like the perfect balance of yin/yang, man/woman, we also need good sperm/egg. I always recommend women exploring fertility options to always have their partner’s sperm tested – quality, motility, and count are key factors.
In my previous blog post, 4 Reasons Why All Men Should Get Acupuncture, I explain how acupuncture can make better sperm. An article in Acupuncture Today explains a trial that was published in Fertility and Sterility. It showed acupuncture can be effective in increasing the number of normal sperm while also significantly reducing structural defects. Compared to the control group, motility levels, and the number and percentage of healthy sperm increased significantly with the men receiving acupuncture. Also, normal-shaped acrosomes (a cap-like structure that develops over the sperm cell’s nucleus) went from 22.% to 38.5% after acupuncture. Acupuncture can help create healthy, mobile, well-shaped sperm. That is awesome!
Lastly, I totally understand baby-making can be hard. It’s one of the most simple, basic concepts but also one of the most intricate and complex. We need this perfect harmony of hormones, healthy and plush eggs, mobile and well-shaped sperm, and a stellar uterine environment for this little baby to implant and grow. There are so many factors that can be affecting your body, and acupuncturists strive to find any imbalances and nudge your body into finding it’s own way. Know that we want to show you just how amazing your body really is, and we are always here to help.
Best in Health,