Acupuncture has gone from far out to mainstream in recent years. The reality is that acupuncture is gaining recognition for its ability to treat many different types of health conditions effectively. In a recent issue of Time magazine, acupuncture was given the spotlight in their health and medicine feature.
In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that acupuncture “is the most widely used traditional medicine practice globally, and it’s gaining traction in the U.S.” Additionally, research surrounding acupuncture for the treatment of infertility is supportive. It is acknowledged that more research is needed, but for now, acupuncture is a complementary therapy for those undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment and may increase response/positive outcomes to IVF treatment.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is an ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that involves placing hair-fine needles on specific points on meridians/ energy pathways. The Chinese believe that we have more than 2000 acupuncture entryways through which “chi” or “qi” (energy) flows.
Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years and is still being used to alleviate pain, curb stress, treat infertility, promote a healthy pregnancy, foster healthy aging, and create an overall sense of well-being. Chinese medicine practitioners view and assess the body as a landscape- it is understood via the lens of Traditional Chinese medicine, that the body- the organ systems, energy, and blood- need to be in clear communication with each other. Dis-ease and disharmony arrive when there is an interruption, trauma, or stasis in the flow of the internal body communication. Acupuncturists place needles along the body’s meridians, which are direct pathways of communication and are connected to the internal organ systems. The number of needles and needle placements are determined after the acupuncturist completes a full medical intake and physical assessment of the patient.
Many studies have been conducted on the correlation and positive outcomes of acupuncture for infertility. This article supports the promising effects of acupuncture for those undergoing fertility treatments.
If you’ve heard of acupuncture and want to know if it can help you or someone you know to get pregnant, you’ve come to the right place. Continue reading to get everything you need to know about acupuncture for infertility.
How Acupuncture Treats Infertility:
When treating infertility with acupuncture and Chinese medicine, the most important treatment strategy is to understand and diagnose each patient and their individual health challenge(s) and goals; tailor the treatment to the patient. Fostering proper blood flow, creating internal warmth and balance, removing stasis, and calming stress and inflammation are paramount in supporting the body while undergoing assisted reproductive therapy (ART)- this includes treatments such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF), and frozen embryo transfers (FET).
The Acupuncture Process
Acupuncturists perform a thorough review of patients’ health and health concerns. Tongue and pulse diagnosis are Chinese medicine’s diagnostic tools that determine an imbalance in the body. Acupuncturists diagnose and devise a treatment plan based on the presenting condition or complaint of the patient. Acupuncture points and treatment plans are customized to each individual patient. Each patient is unique, and every acupuncture treatment may vary from session to session based on how patients are presenting. The number of needles and needle placement is determined after the acupuncturist completes a full medical intake and physical assessment.
On the day of your acupuncture treatment: it’s best to wear loose, comfortable fitting clothing and eat a small snack prior to treatment.
Sterile, single-use needles are carefully inserted into different acupuncture points on the body. Because the needles are extremely fine, inserting them into the skin causes minimal discomfort. The practitioner determines the number of needles used. Most people who have received acupuncture report feeling little to no pain; however, some feelings that could arise during a session include tenderness, warmth, achiness, and soreness.
Removing the Needles
Patients need to lie still for between 20-30 minutes; treatment times may vary. Once the treatment is over, the practitioner gently removes the needles. This is a painless step with usually no discomfort. You can expect to feel calm, relaxed, or energetic right after.
Acupuncture for Fertility
When it comes to helping women conceive, acupuncture is believed to help regulate hormones, promote blood flow to the ovaries, and relieve stress, which can interfere with a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Acupuncture provides great support throughout the IUI/IVF/FET process, which can be quite stressful. Acupuncture brings great relief when it comes to lowering stress and anxiety levels during fertility treatment. Promoting internal calm fosters improved blood flow and lowers stress hormones and inflammation. Patients who receive regular acupuncture treatment report fewer side effects from medications, improved quality of sleep, higher energy levels, and decreased anxiety. Having support through the assisted reproductive process is invaluable.
Acupuncturists suggest that patients come in for an evaluation to determine the best course of action. In addition to recommending lifestyle changes and prescribing certain Chinese herbs (if needed), specialists suggest acupuncture treatment before and after an IVF embryo transfer. We recommend patients receive pre and post embryo transfer acupuncture on-site the day of the embryo transfer. At IHR, we offer onsite treatment to our patients to reduce stress and provide as much support as we can on transfer day.
It’s believed that acupuncture improves the chances of getting pregnant, with studies suggesting that acupuncture can alleviate infertility-induced stress and other existing medical conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and varicocele (a common cause of male infertility).
Benefits of Acupuncture for Infertility
Acupuncture targets the central and peripheral nervous systems, triggering the release of endorphins that help create an ideal ecosystem for a successful pregnancy.
Here is how acupuncture can help correct existing medical and lifestyle conditions in individuals dealing with infertility:
● Reduces stress and anxiety experienced during infertility
● Enhances sperm count and quality
● Boosts sperm fertilization rates
● Improves sleep cycle
● Lowers the chances of a miscarriage
● Increases the chances of getting pregnant through IVF
● Eliminates inflammation in the body that may interfere with the pregnancy
● Improves blood flow to the uterus, ovaries, or testes
● Balances endocrine system and hormonal fluctuations
● Regulates the menstrual cycle
Acupuncture With Fertility Treatment: What Happens Next?
Your initial session will be a comprehensive visit that will last approximately one hour. The visit includes acupuncture treatment, diet and supplement recommendations, and Chinese herbal medicine, if appropriate. Future acupuncture treatment schedules and frequency will be established at the end of the first visit.
Acupuncture for Men and Sperm Health
The approach to acupuncture is standard, with needles inserted into targeted points on the body (not the genitals). It takes 90 days for sperm to develop, so coming in for weekly acupuncture sessions before trying to conceive is imperative. To help with stress and anxiety during and after pregnancy, some patients are advised to keep taking their prescribed medicines even after the three months are up.
Acupuncture in Conjunction with Fertility Treatment
Ideally, acupuncture in conjunction with fertility treatment (such as IVF or IUI) should begin three months prior to a medicated cycle. That being said, any amount of acupuncture support is better than none at all. We meet patients wherever they are on their fertility journey, and we are happy to help.
Acupuncture During Pregnancy
Acupuncture can help reduce the intensity of morning sickness, body aches, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, digestive issues, and depression during pregnancy. Just like a soothing massage that helps alleviate pain and feelings of anxiety and stress, acupuncture can have a remarkable effect on pregnant women.
Acupuncture can help both parents by curbing the negative effects of lack of sleep and erratic schedules after pregnancy. Before attempting an acupuncture treatment.
Considerations When Choosing Acupuncture
Like any course of treatment, it is important to understand how and if acupuncture is right for you. Keep the following pointers in mind before trying this form of complementary medicine:
Keep your doctor in the loop.
You may already have a dedicated doctor who is overseeing and handling your fertility treatment. Before pursuing acupuncture, speak to your doctor and inform them you are seeking acupuncture treatment for fertility support. Be sure to alert your acupuncturist if you have a chronic skin condition, are taking blood thinners, have breast implants, or if you have a pacemaker. Your acupuncturist will make appropriate accommodations and recommendations.
Go with a licensed, board-certified Chinese medicine practitioner.
Work with a qualified professional. A licensed, board-certified Chinese medicine practitioner will have completed a four-year master's degree program or beyond and has completed 3,000 hours of study of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Always crosscheck with a certification portal to authenticate the acupuncturist’s license to practice. Check with your doctor’s office; oftentimes, they have a referral bank of preferred acupuncturists in your area.
Explore your financial options.
It’s important to discuss your financial options with your insurance provider or the acupuncture clinic you choose. Not all insurance companies cover acupuncture as a medical treatment. However, some insurance providers can help with this criterion if acupuncture is specified as essential to fertility treatment. Most acupuncture clinics will provide patients with a superbill to submit to insurance for reimbursement. Additionally, most acupuncture clinics accept health spending accounts.
Acupuncture Associations in the US
In the United States, associations such as National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) that govern board certification for acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners are the gold standard. The American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA) provides practicing acupuncturists with valid certification to practice this treatment. Acupuncturists also need an additional state-wise certification if required by state laws.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine continue to prove their efficacy in addressing fertility when combined with allopathic medicine. When dealing with an infertility diagnosis, it’s important to align with complementary treatment that supports the mind-body connection. Your health and the health of your future child are of the utmost importance. At IHR, we are committed to an integrative approach to fertility treatment; we centralize treatments to simplify patients' fertility experience.
Call today to schedule your acupuncture consultation with our Principal acupuncturist. We look forward to working with you.