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Wed, December 1, 2010
Treating Fertility with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
For centuries in China, Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), have been used to boost fertility, support healthy pregnancy and fetal development, and enhance post-natal health and wellness for mothers and babies. In recent years, acupuncture and TCM (which also includes the use of Chinese medicinal herbs, nutritional guidance, massage, and other hands-on modalities), have become an integral part of fertility treatment for women and men in countries outside of China, including the United States and Europe.

Acupuncture involves inserting tiny, sterile needles in specific areas of the body known as acupuncture points. These points are located along energetic pathways called channels or meridians. Energy flows along these pathways to reach the internal organs, affecting positive change throughout the body. When this energetic flow is blocked or sluggish, problems can arise which disrupt normal physiological processes, including fertility. Acupuncture helps unblock and improve energetic circulation and bring the body into proper balance to resolve these issues. Chinese herbs, typically taken in the form of herbal teas, may be combined with acupuncture to further target physiological imbalances and restore or enhance well being. Specific dietary, nutritional, and lifestyle recommendations may be suggested as well, to help boost fertility by revitalizing the physical body.

For women, the principle aim in using acupuncture and TCM to treat infertility is to regulate the menstrual cycle, improve the likelihood of conception and implantation within the uterus, decrease chances of miscarriage, and help to ensure the body’s ability to carry a healthy baby to term. Men also benefit from the use of acupuncture and TCM to heighten their overall health and stamina, and to improve sperm quality and sperm count.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have been shown to benefit follicular and ovarian function, resulting in increased numbers of follicles, and improved egg quality. According to the website, WebMD (www.webmd.com), acupuncture treatments “increase uterine blood flow, normalize ovulation, and decrease levels of stress hormones in the body which can cause infertility.” Improved circulation in the pelvic region, reproductive organs, and endometrial lining help ensure a lush and healthy environment for implantation and fetal development.

Some people try acupuncture, or a combination of acupuncture and Chinese herbs, to boost fertility without the use of drugs or other conventional medical fertility procedures. Others elect to combine acupuncture and TCM with in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) to further increase their chances of conceiving. In her book, Acupuncture & IVF, Dr. Lifang Liang explains that using acupuncture while undergoing in vitro fertilization can bring a woman’s success rate to over 40%, using both acupuncture and Chinese Herbs along with IVF can raise the pregnancy rate to as much as 60%! Not only can acupuncture and Chinese herbs positively affect IVF results, they can also be used to reduce the negative side effects of the drugs used during IVF.

Coping with infertility can be an extremely stressful, painful, and emotional process, yet it can be an exciting journey for women and their families. It may take several months, or up to a year or more to conceive, depending on your age and the nature of your fertility issues. In instances where there is a physical or structural impediment, for example, blocked fallopian tubes, surgical intervention may be required in order to get pregnant. Yet in some cases, the ability to get pregnant may simply be a matter of restoring physical and hormonal balance, or making necessary lifestyle changes such as reducing stress, improving one’s diet, and getting adequate rest.

Whether you decide to try acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine by itself, or as a supportive measure combined with other medical care, you will find that receiving these gentle and restorative treatments helps increase your chances of conception, and supports body, mind, and spirit throughout pregnancy. Once you become pregnant, acupuncture and TCM offer a gentle and effective way to reduce early-stage nausea and morning sickness, alleviate latter-stage muscle pain and discomfort, improve sleep, and prepare the body for labor and delivery.

As a practitioner, it is a delight to witness successful pregnancies and births in women who previously had difficulty conceiving or carrying to term, or who thought they would never be able to get pregnant. Patients who include acupuncture and TCM as part of their wellness care generally report feeling healthy and strong throughout their pregnancies. And while not always possible, many have shorter than average delivery times, and have been able to avoid inductions and C-sections.

Post-partum, acupuncture and TCM can help facilitate breast milk production and let-down, alleviate physical discomfort, and speed healing of the mother’s body. For both new mothers and fathers, acupuncture treatments can provide relief from the fatigue and stress resulting from limited sleep and having to cope with new and unexpected household changes. Many people discover that acupuncture treatments offer a nice, hour-long, “mini-vacation” to revitalize and recharge, so as to better navigate the excitement and demands of new parenting.

Are you currently trying to get pregnant, or considering doing so in the near future? Here are some steps you can begin now to improve your chances and support a healthy pregnancy:

For Women:
  • Begin taking pre-natal vitamins with folic acid
Pre-natal vitamins are multi-vitamins specifically formulated to address the nutritional needs of expectant mothers and their developing babies. Folic acid is crucial in helping to reduce birth defects in the brain and spinal column which can occur during early fetal development, often before a woman realizes she is pregnant. If you are trying to conceive, it’s best to begin taking pre-natal vitamins now, rather than waiting until you know you are pregnant.
  • Learn to chart your basal body temperature (BBT)
Following your monthly menstrual cycle by tracking daily changes in early morning body temperature will help you predict when you are likely to ovulate each month, and may also help you discover irregularities in your menstrual cycle that could interfere with fertility. If you plan to consult with an acupuncturist, or other fertility specialist, providing copies of your BBT charts can be quite helpful. Free charting instructions can be found on-line at websites such as Fertility Friend: www.fertilityfriend.com
  • Find ways to reduce stress and increase relaxation in your life
Acupuncture treatments are a wonderful way to relieve stress. Other great stress reducers include: massage and bodywork, attending classes in yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong, learning to meditate, and taking daily walks.

Getting adequate rest, and going to bed earlier in the evening are good ways to nurture body, mind, and spirit. Developing good sleeping habits now will help prepare you for the many physical and emotional changes ahead.
  • Improve dietary and lifestyle habits
Both underweight and overweight women have more difficulty conceiving than women who are at an average healthy weight for their height and age.

Eating a balanced diet which includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed foods, and high-quality protein is important. It’s also a good idea to reduce or eliminate sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweetener, junk food, soda, and caffeine, and to quit smoking and drinking alcohol. Be sure to engage in moderate daily exercise, such as walking, and drink plenty of water.

For Men:

Follow the above recommendations to reduce stress and improve dietary and lifestyle habits
Learning to take better care of yourself, manage stress, and improve sleeping habits will help you and your partner move into the next phase of your life as parents.
  • Get a reproductive check-up
Have a check-up to determine whether your sperm count, motility, or morphology is an issue affecting your fertility. If so, consider trying acupuncture and Chinese herbs to strengthen your physical body and improve sperm quality.
  • Reduce exposure to heat in the pelvic region
Since excessive heat exposure is believed to affect sperm quality, refrain from prolonged use of laptop computers placed directly on your lap. It’s also a good idea to avoid frequent soaking in hot tubs or spas while trying to conceive.

To learn more about how you can work with acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to support your fertility, I recommend the following books: The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies, by Dr. Randine Lewis, and Fertility Wisdom: How Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help Overcome Infertility, by Angela C. Wu.

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