The process of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is relatively straightforward: multiple eggs are stimulated with hormone medications, surgically retrieved from the woman’s body and then fertilized in a petri dish with sperm. Later, the “best” embryo(s) are transferred back into the woman’s uterus, where hopefully implantation and further embryonic cell division continues, producing a positive pregnancy test 9-12 days later.
Depending on the strength of a couple’s relationship, their finances and her physical and emotional fortitude, this “journey to baby” can go on cycle after cycle, and often does for years before a patient considers adding acupuncture to the mix.
While including acupuncture to IVF adds more appointments and expenses, it also appears to make a positive impact on cycle outcomes. More patients are seeking out qualified fertility-acupuncturists and more doctors are recommending acupuncture for their patients. Here’s why:
- Acupuncture helps you relax. The release of endorphins from acupuncture helps infertility patients remember that everything is going to be okay somehow. During an IVF protocol there are so many things to remember, so many things that could go wrong, so many things to worry about and try to control. Acupuncture appointments remind patients to let it go. The feel good hormones help them remember what calm feels like and feeling calm makes better gametes and a more receptive womb.
- Scheduled reflection time. Whether you’re “spiritual” or not, the process of paying lots of money for something that has no guarantee of working challenges even the least spiritually oriented people to find some faith that it is going to work. While resting with needles, patients tend to become more receptive to the idea that there may be something to change about their lifestyles before becoming parents.
- Tips on what to eat to boost fertility. We are trained to know how to use food as medicine, and we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from watching our patients make a few subtle dietary changes that can very quickly result in a higher number of better quality eggs, improved sperm and improved embryos.
- Helpful during each phase of the cycle. During the suppression phase (the days of birth control, Lupron or estrogen patches), acupuncture helps patients stabilize their moods and side effects of suppression, such as hot flashes, cramping, headaches and moodiness. While the ovaries are being stimulated, acupuncture reduces the tenderness and discomfort that comes from the ovaries swelling to accommodate multiple maturing follicles. Acupuncture has been included at the time of embryo transfer for nearly 15 years to help increase the chance of implantation and it’s ability to promote blood flow to the womb helps increase the chance of pregnancy.
- Another source for support. Many patients use their appointments to convey how the cycle is unfolding, how it is different from the times past and how they feel. This relay of valuable information can prove very useful as patients go forward. They may turn to their acupuncturists for opinions, support, advice and counseling when their partners are not available. We are known for being patient advocates and help patients know how to dialogue with their doctors to design protocols that are successful and reduce the need for numerous cycles.
This artistic, ancient form of holistic medicine can be very helpful inside the more advanced, high-tech science known as Reproductive Endocrinology. In fact, acupuncture has become so helpful at improving a woman’s fertility, that many times I’ve seen women surprisingly find out that they have become pregnant in between IVF attempts or after they abandoned IVF and ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) altogether.
We all agree that getting pregnant these days often necessitates a “multi-factorial” approach. Including acupuncture into an IVF cycle can have a multitude of positive side effects. And any time in your menstrual cycle is a good time to get started.