If you are receiving fertility treatments or concerned about your ability to get pregnant, consider including a natural, complementary practice thousands of years old: acupuncture.
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From an Eastern perspective, acupuncture helps your body get back to a balanced state to prepare for conception. From a Western perspective, we don’t know why it works, but we see that it does.
In a study of 225 women by researchers at the University of Witten/Herdecke in Dortmund, Germany, acupuncture was combined with conventional fertility treatments. This addition of acupuncture led to a pregnancy rate of 28.4 percent – compared to a pregnancy rate of 13.8 percent among the women who used conventional treatments alone.
How acupuncture works
Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into certain locations on the body. In traditional Chinese medicine, the energy force of “chi” or “qi” is believed to flow through certain pathways in the body, called “meridians.” Acupuncture is thought to help balance the chi. There are a few scientific theories explaining chi energy and meridians , but none have been scientifically proven. Nonetheless, acupuncture has been established as a beneficial practice for many people.
Researchers have determined some of the underlying mechanism of how acupuncture works. It stimulates the release of endorphins, which reduce pain and produce a sense of well-being. Acupuncture also increases blood flow to the area, which can promote healing and improve organ function. Acupuncture also helps to reduce inflammation.
How it fits in with different fertility treatments
Women trying different fertility methods may include acupuncture. I treat some women whose approach is to try to get pregnant without taking hormones or undergoing invasive medical procedures. Other women come for acupuncture as they are undergoing a lengthy process of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
While most fertility specialists won’t treat patients unless they’ve tried unsuccessfully to conceive for six months to a year, a woman can start seeing an acupuncturist long before she hopes to get pregnant — especially if she has any fertility concerns.
Seeing an acupuncturist sooner rather than later allows for your health to be assessed over a couple of menstrual cycles. Women can start acupuncture treatment a few months before IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF. In general, I encourage patients to come in at least a few months before they hope to conceive.
About the needles
If you’re afraid of needles, don’t let that stop you from looking into acupuncture. The needles are quite small and thin and needling is only one small part of treatment. We also talk about the emotional roller coaster of infertility and possible influencing factors, including stress, nutrition, exercise and what’s going on in a patient’s life.
Having patience is important. Acupuncture treatment has a cumulative effect, and you have to be willing to go through the process and give your body time to respond. That’s why starting sooner helps; it gives your acupuncturist time to make treatment adjustments that allow it to work best.