"A fertility journey is never easy but Helen was crucial to make it successful. Not only because of her knowledge and all the science behind her sessions but also because of her human side which is critical for anyone going through such a challenging times. Thank you Helen for helping me become the happiest mum ever."
MF (Sales manger)
After 12 months of actively trying to get pregnant with no success, people usually to start to wonder if something's wrong. A logical first step is to have fertility tests. These include hormonal blood tests, sperm tests and scans of the uterus and ovaries. If these tests are all normal the advice is to keep trying, but the lack of answers can feel frustrating.
Chinese medicine is helpful at this stage as it offers a different way of understanding reproductive medicine, and can therefore provide alternative strategies to promote fertility. The first stage of treatment is to take a full case history. This can reveal ways in which dietary and life style changes, and a course of acupuncture may have the potential to improve reproductive health (see key aspects of fertility). In addition diagnostic tools such as basal body temperature charts are interpreted to give a fuller picture of the effects of reproductive hormones on the body.
Some people start acupuncture in preparation to conceive. These are usually women who recognise that they might have problems getting pregnant due to menstrual irregularities, being in the upper age bracket for fertility, or feeling highly stressed. Following an initial set of treatments, acupuncture is usually targeted at particular times of the cycle, and is therefore affordable over a few months.
It is also common for people to come for help after discovering that they are outside the normal range for FSH, AMH or sperm counts. These results can feel enormously dispiriting, but it is often still possible to conceive. At this stage IVF or anther assisted reproductive technique might also be considered. As an experienced fertility acupuncturist I have the knowledge to discuss these choices with you and help to support your natural reproductive health whatever your decision.
Key aspects of fertility
Diet and digestion
There is plenty of advice on offer regarding a healthy preconception diet, and depending on your outlook it might be helpful or overwhelming. In common with most nutritional advice, Chinese dietary therapy recommends moderation of refined foods and a good balance of healthy protein, fruit, vegetables and grains. It also recognises that some foods can be more or less healthy according to individual constitution. This is where an experienced Chinese medical practitioner can recommend a diet that suits your particular digestive function, is easy to follow and allows you to enjoy your food.
Acupuncture at this stage will also aim to support digestion. In order to create the best conditions for pregnancy, it's important not only to eat well, but to absorb the nutrients and utilise them in the body. Digestive issues such as bloating, irregular bowel function, and reflux can be helped using acupuncture. Acupuncture treatment and dietary advice might also be helpful to support weight gain or weight loss.
A healthy menstrual cycle is roughly 28 days with ovulation occurring around the middle. For optimum fertility, the period should be regular, not too painful and the flow should be bright and healthy looking rather than dark with clots. A 28 day cycle gives the best chance for conception as it indicates that the reproductive hormones are in balance and gives a predictable ovulation date. If your cycle doesn't follow this trend then acupuncture treatment will initially focus on helping you towards achieving a normal length of cycle.
A detailed case history taken on your first visit will highlight any irregularities in your menstrual cycle. Questions are also asked about the nature of the period as this provides information about the quality of the endometrium, the growing medium for the embryo. If the endometrium is too thin or clotted, it can inhibit pregnancy. Acupuncture treatment will aim to promote blood circulation to the uterus in order to provide a healthy growing medium for the embryo.
For women with high FSH or low AMH readings the process of getting pregnant becomes even more stressful. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever produce and each layer gradually develops, a bit like the layers of an onion, throughout the fertile years. During the 3 months before each layer of eggs matures to be available for ovulation, they receive nutrients from the blood. Therefore, although the genetic make up of an egg cannot be changed, it can be affected buy the circulation and quality of the nutrients and hormones in the blood. Acupuncture can therefore be used to bring energy to a developing egg and perhaps to enhance its capacity to create a viable embryo.
Danielle (TV producer)
Acupuncture in support of IVF
IVF is an expensive and complex process. It usually involves bags full of pharmaceuticals and intrusive scans. There are a number of different commonly used protocols: long and short protocols, frozen embryo cycles and natural cycles. Often the medics are extremely busy and I’ve heard many women liken their experience to being on a fertility conveyor belt.
There are a number of ways in which Chinese medicine can help. Firstly, having acupuncture provides a chance to experience a much more personal treatment, but still focused on fertility. Many of the drugs used in IVF are hormones, and therefore women react to them differently. The initial down regulation stage can be tricky as it mimics menopause, and large doses of oestrogen and progesterone can produce PMT like symptoms. The medication is necessary, but the side effects are not, and can make an already stressful process more challenging. Acupuncture can help to safely moderate the intensity of certain side effects. Good knowledge of the nature of IVF medicines and which side effects are associated with particular stages of treatment is valuable. Sometimes it’s helpful to know that you’re not just going mad.
Acupuncture is also used locally to enhance the flow of blood and nutrients to the reproductive organs at particular stages of IVF. There is research to support its efficacy in leading to increased rates of pregnancy (Hu Wenxiao, J Taishan 2016). Chinese medicine can be useful throughout an IVF programme, but there are specific stages at which it is most commonly used:
There's an art to these treatments as there is variation in individual responses to IVF. This is why fertility acupuncture is best approached as a series of treatments starting before commencing IVF and continuing throughout the IVF cycle.