Planning a family? How can acupuncture help?
You’re about to make one of the biggest decisions in your adult life - to start a family. Naturally, you’re looking to improve all major aspects of your daily life - your diet, exercise regime, reaction to stress. Perhaps you’re already fine-tuning your ovulation, taking a few supplements, or chatting with others going through the same journey as you.
But, what other routes can you take if it’s taking a tad longer than you expected?
What is fertility acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a part of ancient energy medicine which dates back about 3,000 years. It’s been used in China for centuries and is now increasingly the medicine model of choice in the West for many modern health issues. Acupuncture is especially well-researched and widely used in reproductive medicine; I have used it successfully to solve many reproductive health issues of my patients over the years.
Acupuncture is based on restoring the homeostatic equilibrium in the body. It stimulates the body to regulate its essential functions by itself.
When the body and mind are in balance, we enjoy good health. Our metabolic functions are timely, we sleep soundly, have regular bowel movements, have a robust immune system and our reaction to stress is appropriate to the situation. But, when the body and mind are unbalanced, we start experiencing pain, tension, and chronic health problems, poor immunity and, increasingly, impaired fertility.
When deciding to start a family, most of us review our lifestyle, diet and exercise regime to give ourselves the best chance of a natural conception. Some of us (especially if there have been issues with previous pregnancies, history of miscarriage or chronic health problems), will seek the help of medical professionals or, at the very least, make use of comprehensive diagnostics to maximise the chances of a healthy pregnancy.
They are all very important steps, taken according to personal circumstances and are valuable in giving you the best chance to achieve your dream.
Whichever route to pregnancy you take, the oldest healthcare system in the world, acupuncture, will be beneficial to your conception and later in pregnancy in many different ways. It’s a safe, natural and holistic medicine model that reminds your body to do what it does best - work well and heal itself.
How does acupuncture complement conventional reproductive medicine?
Although acupuncture is an excellent independent medicine model, it works really well if combined with conventional medicine.
In reproductive medicine, diagnostic tools are used, such as blood tests, physical examination and scans. These are invaluable to give a detailed picture and a starting point for beginning acupuncture treatments, especially if acupuncture is to be used to support those on an IVF route to parenthood.
What happens in an acupuncture consultation and treatment?
Acupuncture treatment is based on inserting fine, hair-thin needles into certain body points to stimulate the healing process or reduce pain. I use a combination of points according to a very specific diagnosis that follows noting my patient’s personal and familial medical history, observation of the tongue and pulse on both wrists, and gentle abdominal palpation.
Details about lifestyle, diet, exercise, sleep patterns, digestion, bowel movements, pain and its location are very important. Medication and treatment through conventional medicine and details about the menstrual cycle are all discussed in detail. These facts help me to determine what we call the ‘pattern of disharmony’ and prescribe a treatment protocol.
Acupuncture prescriptions are re-assessed and re-evaluated at subsequent sessions and may be adapted, according to changes to pulse, tongue and palpation diagnosed.
During the treatment, the sensation felt following the needle insertion is described as a tingling or dull ache. The needles used are single-use, sterile and disposable and the common post-treatment response is to feel calm and relaxed. Other responses to treatment can sometimes include tiredness or mild dizziness, and on occasion minor bruising may occur. However, all such reactions are rare and short-lived.
How can acupuncture improve reproductive health and aid fertility?
The use of acupuncture in reproductive medicine is vast and all aspects of your health will be touched in some way. This medicine model treats the body and mind as a whole, and no elements of it remain untouched.
Acupuncture supports your emotions and prevents anxiety - a major contributor to stress symptoms that can lead to low appetite, bowel movement disturbances and poor sleep patterns.
If all your essential bodily functions and hormones are regulated to their best potential, your journey to parenthood will be smoother and easier.
These are the main points of influence on your ability to conceive naturally:
- Regulating the menstrual cycle. This makes it easy for you to track your most fertile days. Acupuncture helps in all cases of menstrual issues, such as painful periods, cramping, severe abdominal pain, heavy or sparse menstrual flow, and/or irregular periods.
- Improving ovulation and boosting the egg quality. Especially when combined with nutrition planning, including the Chinese medicine Food Energetics that should routinely be included in your conception planning.
- Regulating your hormonal balance. This can reduce the incidence of PMS, headaches, bloating and breast tenderness that result from hormonal imbalance.
- Reducing stress. This happens by switching off the sympathetic nervous system that produces adrenaline and cortisol, and switching on the parasympathetic nervous system which releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones).
- Stimulating the blood flow in the lower abdomen and pelvic area. This brings more nutrients and oxygenates the uterus, making it a more receptive and embryo-friendly environment.
- Improving sleep and helping the regulation of the immune system. Sleep is extremely important as this is when we rebuild our immunity, gain good quality energy for the day ahead and stay focused on all areas in our life.
How can acupuncture support IVF?
Acupuncture regulates fertility hormone levels including FSH and LH and improves the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis that goes out of balance under continuous stress.
If you’re going through the long protocol IVF cycle, during the down-regulation phase, acupuncture helps with the side effects of the medication. It can help to reduce menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flushes, headaches, fatigue and sweating. This is achieved through acupuncture's regulating effect of the prolactin and cortisol levels.
In the phase of up-regulation, acupuncture helps to improve the number and quality of eggs to be collected at egg retrieval, leading to more successful formation of embryos.
It’s important to remember that the male partner can also benefit hugely from acupuncture. It can help with lowering of the scrotal temperature, better circulation and, if administered in a course of sessions, can improve the quality of the sperm - improving chances of good quality embryo formation.
Following the egg collection procedure, acupuncture can help with pain and discomfort and encourage a quicker recovery process, in preparation for subsequent embryo transfer.
It’s advisable to have acupuncture as closely as possible before and after the embryo transfer. This can help to keep you calm and relaxed and to encourage embryo implantation through stimulating good blood flow and oxygenation in the uterus.
During all stages of your preparation for conception and/or IVF, the overall relaxing effect of acupuncture is very important. This comes to the forefront during the dreaded two-week wait when, more than ever, you might find it difficult to deal with stress in the anticipation of a pregnancy test.
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