Seeking alternative wellness and treatment options to enhance fertility, such as acupuncture for fertility, is rapidly becoming an acceptable and popular option for singles and couples looking to start or grow a family. But how does acupuncture work for fertility and how effective is it for couples using IVF? We answer all of your urgent questions about acupuncture for fertility, including when to do acupuncture for fertility, how to balance acupuncture with IVF treatments, and how acupuncture helps to support a healthy early pregnancy.
How Does Acupuncture Help Fertility?
In traditional Chinese medicine, infertility is called ‘Bu Yun’, which translates to ‘not being able to hold’. In strict medical terms, infertility is the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in 12 months. Women who experience miscarriages may also be considered infertile.
Infertility impacts the lives of roughly 12 percent of women aged between 15 and 44. In 35 percent of couples experiencing fertility issues, both the male and female play a role in the unsuccessful conception. In 8 percent of infertility cases, the male is the exclusive factor.
Acupuncture can be beneficial for couples after several unsuccessful months or years of trying to become pregnant, with or without fertility assistance. How can acupuncture help fertility? Acupuncture is proven to help regulate hormones, improve the menstrual cycle and promote ovulation, and relieve stress by causing your brain to release neuropeptides — molecules that allows neurons and effector cells to communicate — into the central nervous system. Many doctors recommend acupuncture to couples looking to conceive, immediately before starting fertility treatment (pre and post-embryo transfer) or in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
According to a number of medical research studies, acupuncture can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression in infertile couples. IVF treatments can be stressful for couples. High levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) have been linked to increased risk of miscarriage in women once they become pregnant. Depression can also be an issue for women struggling with infertility. In these cases, acupuncture’s role is to decrease stress and anxiety that contribute to fertility problems. However, the current medical research is inconclusive about whether acupuncture can directly influence the functioning of the female reproductive organs.
For pregnant women, acupuncture, combined with good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, seems to have the ability to alleviate some of the undesirable symptoms of pregnancy like morning sickness, fatigue and depression, and alleviate the lower back pain that can occur during late pregnancy. For pregnant women who participated in depression-focused acupuncture, acupuncture treatments can reduce depression symptoms by 63 percent.
How Effective Is Acupuncture For Fertility?
Many medical studies provide evidence that acupuncture can help support successful conception in women undertaking in vitro fertilization (IVF). Acupuncture at the correct time may help to relax the uterus at the time of transfer, increasing the chances of implantation.
For couples undergoing IVF, acupuncturists typically recommend a short treatment of acupuncture prior to and immediately after an embryo transfer. Before you start, it’s important to discuss acupuncture with your fertility specialist first, so your fertility specialist and acupuncturist can work together to deliver the best possible care and treatment for you.
Acupuncture and Male Fertility
To increase chances of conception, it’s recommended that both partners achieve optimal health. Studies show that in cases of male infertility, acupuncture can increase the chances of pregnancy. Acupuncture can improve energy levels, weight, stress and cardiovascular health, and there is also evidence that acupuncture may help increase sperm quality and density.
When To Get Acupuncture For Fertility
Acupuncture is usually offered as a treatment 3 to 4 months prior to and in the lead up to insemination, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or donor-egg transfer. The pacing of the treatment can have a therapeutic effect and help ease stress.
Acupuncture can also help prevent miscarriage in pregnant women. Typically, most miscarriages occur within the first 3 months of pregnancy. To support a healthy early pregnancy, acupuncture treatments typically last through to week 12.
Acupuncture pressure points for fertility and what to expect at your appointment
Your initial visit with an acupuncturist will likely involve an in-depth consultation where they seek to understand your needs and ask you questions about your stress levels and nutrition. After this consultation, the acupuncturist will stimulate a variety of acupuncture points with acupuncture needles, most often on the head, lower legs and belly. These acupuncture needles will be left in for about 20-25 minutes.
According to Chinese medicine, pressure points on the head promote relaxation, while the acupuncture points in the lower legs can promote blood flow to the reproductive organs. Generally, an acupuncturist should not place needles in the abdominopelvic area after insemination or transfer. Acupuncture points to avoid when the patient is pregnant include Gallbladder 21, Stomach 12, Large Intestine 4, Spleen 6, Bladder 60, Bladder 67 and any points on the lower abdomen.
Acupuncture For Fertility: How Often?
If you are trying to conceive naturally, acupuncturists recommend undergoing a weekly treatment of acupuncture for 12 weeks.
If you are a woman trying to conceive, the best times to have an acupuncture treatment include:
- The follicular phase - day 5, 6, 7 or 8 of your menstrual cycle, with day 1 being the first day of a heavy period
- The day of, before or after ovulation (as indicated by the acute rise of Luteinizing Hormone in your system)
- During implantation time - 6 to 10 days after ovulation
How many acupuncture sessions for fertility are recommended? Generally, women should receive acupuncture treatments once a week (three to four times per month) while trying to conceive.
- Bai, L. & Lao, L. (2013). Neurobiological Foundations of Acupuncture: The Relevance and Future Prospect Based on Neuroimaging Evidence. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013. Article ID 812568. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/812568.
- Cochrane, S., Smith, C. A., Possamai-Inesedy, A., & Bensoussan, A. (2014). Acupuncture and women’s health: an overview of the role of acupuncture and its clinical management in women’s reproductive health. International Journal of Women’s Health, 6: 313–325. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S38969
- Siterman, S., Eltes, F., Lederman, H. & Bartoov, B. (2000). Does acupuncture treatment affect sperm density in males with very low sperm count? A pilot study. Andrologia, 32(1): 31-39.
- Stener-Victorin, E., Waldenström, U., Andersson, S. A., and Wikland, M. (1996). Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture. Human Reproduction, 11(6):1314-7.