Couples undergoing fertility treatments experience immense amounts of stress and anxiety. It is a common reason for taking a break or stopping treatment altogether. Based on research, coupled with my clinical experience, I can honestly say that acupuncture does help reduce the stress associated with the physical and emotional rollercoaster ride of fertility treatments.
Research shows that when tiny, sterile acupuncture needles are gently and painlessly placed in the skin, the body releases its own natural pain killers (endorphins) and oxytocin (the love hormone). Combined they are responsible for the relaxed feeling one gets after an acupuncture session. It causes your muscles to relax, your breathing to slow and your mind to calm. Some practitioners call this feeling “acu-stoned.” This blissful benefit from acupuncture was cited by IVF patients as helping them feel more relaxed and in control during their fertility treatment. I have been told by IVF doctors performing embryo transfers, that the uterus of a woman who has had regular acupuncture is more relaxed and that the embryo transfer is easier. Research shows that acute and chronic stress in patients undergoing assisted reproduction may decrease the number of eggs retrieved and fertilised, as well as pregnancy rates, live birth delivery and birth weight. Therefore, reducing stress and anxiety can be incredibly helpful for all IVF patients.
Numerous patients come to see me who are stressed about infertility. They are stressed about being stressed and are experiencing some level of disruption to their physical and mental health. Acupuncture can address both aspects of that gloomy vicious cycle of infertility and stress. A secret journey that most couples are doing alone. It helps reduce anxiety and depression in addition to common symptoms of a revved up nervous system such as headaches, overthinking, irritability, muscle tension, food cravings and sleep disturbances.
For every acupuncture treatment the acupuncture points chosen will be tailored according to each patient’s individual presentation. There is no “cookie cutter, one size fits all” approach and I always assess a patient’s physical and emotional symptoms. I select acupuncture points based on the stage of the cycle they are at and use any information they have about the amount and size of follicles growing on the ovaries, the thickness of the uterine lining and side effects from medications to form part of my treatment plan. Using Chinese Medicine tongue and pulse diagnosis can also help with point selection as does dietary and lifestyle advice. During treatments, patients are covered with towels to ensure they are warm and comfortable, relaxing music or meditation tracks are played and it is a time to relax, unwind and trust that your body has the innate capacity to conceive a healthy baby. Your acupuncture treatment is an escape from the your hectic schedule and you actually get to stop, lie down and relax.
As a Doctor of Chinese Medicine, if indicated and in consultation with your treating fertility specialist, herbs may be prescribed in capsule form. A meta-analysis of quality research suggests that herbal management of female infertility can improve pregnancy rates two-fold within a 3-6 month period. Fertility indicators such as cervical mucus score, basal body temperature ovulation indicators, ovulation rates and thickness of the endometrial lining positively correlate with the administration of Chinese herbs. All of these improvements support a healthy pregnancy.
Once ovulation has occurred, sperm inseminated or the embryo transferred, there is the dreaded “two week wait” when couples are waiting to see if that month was successful resulting in a positive pregnancy. This is usually a time of high stress, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Acupuncture treatments during this time are aimed at encouraging implantation of the embryo, calming the mind, reducing stress hormones and providing emotional and physical support whilst always focusing on the main goal of achieving healthy pregnancy leading to a healthy birth.
Many of my patients find that coming for regular weekly acupuncture treatments are very beneficial in preparation for any type of fertility treatment such as IUI, IVF or ovulation induction. They are relieved that they can do something that makes them feel empowered, balanced and calmer.
Written by Mandi Azoulay, our in-house Chinese Medicine Practitioner.
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