Fertility Issues: Infertility or Subfertility? Unexplained Infertility?
People tend to think of infertility as a women’s problem, but the reality is that infertility is equally prevalent in men and women accounting for about a third of cases each. The remaining 30% of couples are described as having ‘unexplained infertility’ – which means that the cause of their inability to conceive remains unknown after thorough fertility testing. ‘Unexplained infertility’ is not a diagnosis, but rather the lack of one. Again these couples may be subfertile rather than infertile. There’s a big difference.
Your health and fertility are influenced by many factors including your genetic heritage from your parents, your medical history, lifestyle (diet, work, sleep, exercise etc), your gynaecological history (STDs, period pain, PMT etc), your emotional status and a wide variety of environmental factors (exposure to toxins, medications, contraceptive history etc). So if you are subfertile there’s a lot you can do in terms of taking care of yourself and improving your lifestyle to help enhance your fertility. Whether you are trying to conceive naturally or planning assisted conception such as IVF, acupuncture can really help.
Recommended Reading: Total Fertility by Emma Cannon (2013), Macmillan.
What is Fertility Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is holistic – which means it treats you as a whole person. Helping you conceive is about achieving balance in the emotional, hormonal and physical aspects of your health.
Acupuncture treatments for fertility draw on the well established and ancient principles of Chinese Medicine primarily using traditional (body) acupuncture points. Over the last 20 years there have been significant developments in fertility acupuncture and advances in acupuncture research. As a consequence, some of the more contemporary forms of acupuncture, such as ear acupuncture, have been integrated into traditional fertility acupuncture treatments. Fertility acupuncture protocols have developed, such as the Paulus Protocol, which has been shown to increase pregnancy success rates with IVF.
All your fertility acupuncture treatments are tailored to meet your individual needs and to address specific fertility issues at the right time in your cycle.
How does acupuncture help fertility?
Research studies indicate that acupuncture may help fertility in a variety of ways:
- Balancing hormones
- Regulating the menstrual cycle
- Increasing blood flow to the pelvic organs and improving function of the ovaries and uterus
- Increasing blood circulation to help optimise endometrial (womb lining) thickness in preparation to receive the fertilised egg
- Helping to stimulate ovulation in women with no or irregular ovulation
- Promoting embryo implantation
- Enhancing egg quality and sperm parameters (sperm count, motility and structure)
- Helping women with polycystic ovarian syndrome PCOS , endometriosis, painful periods – dysmenorrhea, pre-menstrual tension PMT, pelvic inflammation
- Reducing anxiety and stress and improving overall health and energy levels
IVF Acupuncture can help prepare couples for IVF, help with the side-effects of IVF medication and prepare the body for embryo transfer. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer has been shown to increase pregnancy rates (Paulus et al., 2002).
- Acupuncture for Female & Male Fertility, ART, IVF – click here for more information.
- Acupuncture for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) & Endometriosis – click here for more information.
Who needs Fertility Acupuncture?
In addition to helping you improve your physical health and fertility, acupuncture is a great source of support for anyone having difficulty getting pregnant. Fertility problems can be deeply distressing, especially if you have suffered the loss of failed pregnancies. Struggling to conceive may result in depression, anxiety, sexual difficulties, relationship problems, marital tension and feelings of guilt, anger or loss. On top of all this, your well meaning friends may be telling you – just relax and it will happen …aaarrrrgh! In these situations it is quite normal to feel anxious and emotional. Acupuncture can help.
What happens when I come for a treatment?
It’s helpful if both you and your partner attend the initial consultation. At this first consultation I will take a thorough case history, including your medical history, and in particular ask questions about your periods, contraceptive history, any history of STDs, about any relationship issues etc. I will also ask you about your diet, work and sleep habits as your lifestyle is important.
If you haven’t had acupuncture before you may be surprised to know that it is almost painless and wonderfully relaxing!
For more information on what happens in an acupuncture treatment, click here to visit the Frequently Asked Questions section.
How many sessions will I need? How often do I need to come?
If you decide to have acupuncture to help you with fertility you will probably need a course of treatments.
In Chinese Medicine the menstrual cycle is seen as the foundation of a woman’s health, it tells a lot about your health and wellbeing as well as your fertility. If female fertility issues are suspected, it’s best for you to come for acupuncture weekly for the first 3 – 4 weeks so I can get a picture of what is happening at different stages in your menstrual cycle and make a Chinese medical diagnosis. The treatment plan will depend on the diagnosis. Thereafter it may be appropriate to see you once or twice a month at key times in your cycle, depending on your circumstances. Everyone is different.
If sperm parameters are an issue then I may suggest weekly treatments for 2-3 weeks then monthly as health improves.
When should I start acupuncture treatment?
If you have concerns about your health or fertility, there’s no better time to start than the present. That said, what’s most important is that you make the necessary changes to your lifestyle now. You need to start to understand your menstrual cycle, quit smoking, limit your drinking, get sufficient exercise and rest and eat a regular balanced diet. Acupuncture can help, but it is essential that you optimise your lifestyle and nutrition at the same time.
If you are currently run down or in a poor state of health, it might be an idea to have regular acupuncture and improve your diet etc before trying to conceive.
If egg or sperm quality is an issue, it’s a good idea to have regular acupuncture for a minimum of 3-4 months before starting IVF as this is how long it takes for a mature sperm or egg to develop.
Acupuncture for IVF
If you are planning IVF, it’s beneficial to start your acupuncture treatments well in advance so we can get a view of your health and get your body in balance before you start the IVF medications. It is recommended that you have weekly acupuncture once you have started the IVF medication and then 2 sessions on the day of egg collection (one pre- and one post-egg collection), 2 sessions on the day of transfer (one pre- one post- transfer) and then a final treatment 4-7 days after the transfer. If your budget won’t stretch that far or your plans for IVF are imminent, don’t worry, acupuncture at any time during the process should help.