Acupuncture for fertility
Acupuncturist and nutritionist Eloise Minton BSc (hons) Ac, Lic Ac., shares her thoughts on fertility in the modern world. Her extensive experience in women’s health and her previous work as a doula (birth support) guide her practice to enable a full package of care and support during the preconception process and pregnancy.
Fertility acupuncture with Eloise
As an acupuncturist, I have noticed a growing trend for women and couples coming for treatment when they are at their wits end, or just about to embark on in vitro fertilisation (IVF). I’m interested in why women are often waiting so long to address reproductive health? I would urge women to become curious about their health, including their reproductive heath, before the deafening ring-a-ding-ding of their biological clock ticking becomes unbearable. Stop pressing the snooze button!
A golden path was paved some sixteen years ago, for widespread public & medical interest in the use of acupuncture to increase IVF success, thanks to the hallmark Paulus study (2002).
"A golden path was paved some sixteen years ago, for widespread public & medical interest in the use of acupuncture to increase IVF success, thanks to the hallmark Paulus study (2002)"Eloise Minton
Since then, further studies (Westergaard et al, 2006, and Smith et al, 2006) have added their weight and I now see women of diverse backgrounds in my practice who come for fertility and IVF support.
Acupuncture can also fill an important gap: providing continuity of care to women and couples throughout the often stressful, confusing and disparate assisted reproductive process. I always offer a 4-month conception plan where possible, including diet & lifestyle changes alongside acupuncture treatments in order to prepare a woman, not only for conception but for the demands that a pregnancy and childbirth require. These demands are significant, and in a culture where we do not support this process, this can lead to problems down the line, which I also see in my practice.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the postnatal period as the most critical and yet the most neglected phase in the lives of mothers and babies (WHO recommendations on Postnatal care of the mother and newborn, 2013). But I digress…
When time is of the essence, it is not always possible to follow a four month plan, so we do what is possible in the time available. However I always feel that an opportunity is missed to generously prepare the body/mind for conception and all that follows.
How do you know if your reproductive health could benefit from support?
- If your cycle is irregular (or very short/long), painful, absent (amenorrhea), very light, very heavy (menorrhagia) , unusual spotting, and if you suffer from significant PMT symptoms
- If you’ve ever been on the pill
- The age-factor: are you 35 or over and wanting to conceive at some point?
Reproductive health can be impacted by the following:
- Stress / fatigue / anxiety / burnout
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, fibroids, endocrine disorders, obesity, hormonal imbalance (i.e low progesterone) medications
- Insomnia, poor sleep
- Poor diet
- Working long hours without adequate rest
- Reliance on stimulants: alcohol, caffeine, smoking etc
- Regularly over/under eating, irregular eating times and ‘on the run’
- Negative thoughts and constantly being hard on oneself; the ‘I’m never good enough’ mindset Stress A word on stress: stress = fight/flight reflex= blood diverted from internal organs =1st thing to shut down is reproductive system and digestion. So when your body is under stress, the biological impulse is not to reproduce!
Methods to reduce stress and support you and your reproductive health immediately:
- Acupuncture/acupressure to harmonise the nervous system and increase blood flow to the uterus and internal organs
- Mindfulness meditation
- Any activity that brings you joy! Walking in nature, yoga, qi gong, swimming etc
- Allow yourself some proper downtime especially around the time your period is due: have a whole day if you possibly can, or an afternoon or evening to just DROP. Schedule it in!
- Reduce / eliminate caffeine and other stimulants. These help in the short term, but can exhaust your nervous system in the long term. Switch to green tea, yannoh, matcha or turmeric latte
- Have regular mealtimes and not ‘on the run’, avoid processed foods
Declining fertility rates
We can observe that fertility rates have declined in recent decades, and more women are conceiving later in life (United Nations, 2015; World Bank Data, 2014). Acupuncture takes a 360 degree approach to health and it’s no different with fertility.
Once I’ve seen a patient for a consultation, I can determine what Chinese type she is *, and diagnose where the imbalance(s) stem from.
I treat everyone on an individual basis; there is no one size fits all, however patients will usually fall under one or two categories, and this guides treatment.
The key is in the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is a key diagnostic tool for women’s health in Chinese medicine; for general health and fertility. It not only highlights an imbalance but will also begin to regulate itself as that imbalance is corrected. From a Chinese perspective the main causes of infertility are: Kidney yin/yang deficiency, jing or blood deficiency (not necessarily anaemic, but can lead to this), shen instability and liver qi stagnation.
"With 30% of infertility patients labelled as idiopathic (unknown cause) in the West, Chinese medicine can offer a valuable next step."
I commonly see test results coming back as completely normal, but from a Chinese medical perspective it is very clear how to treat.
For example, there may be a lot of heat in the system, due to an underlying yin deficiency. This may be evidenced by a short cycle with lots of bright red blood, or a scanty flow if there is also blood deficiency, night sweating, tendency towards anxiety/panic attacks, insomnia. Obviously something is not quite harmonised.
The good news for yin deficient types is that the treatment approach is all about pampering. I appreciate that allowing oneself to rest can be a challenge in itself, but I always think its easier when it comes as a prescription from your health care provider!
Whatever your type, whatever your cycle, whatever your diagnosis; the individualised lifestyle advice offered during an acupuncture treatment, the effect the treatment can have on your blood flow, mood, energy (qi), nervous system, meridian system, and importantly, providing an opportunity to completely rest for an hour, can be a positive addition in supporting your health as a woman. Wherever you are on your fertility journey.
*I also work with men for fertility, impotence and other health-related concerns.
Eloise is at The Healthy Living Company every Wednesday 3-7pm