How Does Acupuncture Help Fertility?

Perhaps you’ve noticed an increase in the number of baby shower invites you’ve received lately.   You’re having trouble jogging around the reservoir without bumping into double strollers.  And friends who were on the Career Track have made the shift to the Baby Track.  It’s no secret there’s a baby boom going on in the United States – and it seems to be magnified in our major cities.

A recent Los Angeles Magazine article by Monica Corcoran Harel subtitled “One Woman’s Window Into L.A’s Booming Fertility Industry” profiles Ms. Harel’s journey to conceive – the happy ending (spoiler alert!) involves Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine.  Harel’s piece cites, “the number of women over 40 in California giving birth increased by 300 percent in the 1990s.”

When I started specializing in Women’s Health and the Childbearing Cycle, I knew I’d be getting referrals from existing patients, obstetricians, midwives and doulas, but I never expected to get patients sent directly to me by their Reproductive Endocrinologists (fertility doctors).  When you help a woman who’s been trying to conceive for 4 years finally get pregnant, they don’t hesitate to tell all their friends (and doctors).

I treat many women over 40 who are using various forms of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology), but I also treat a lot of women (and some men) who have been diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”  – in other words, “you still have plenty of eggs and your hormone levels are normal (even over 40), so we don’t know why you’re not getting pregnant.”  This is one area where Oriental Medicine really shines.

But how, exactly, can needles and herbs help you get – and stay – pregnant?  Let me explain the basics.

Acupuncture is one technique of Traditional Oriental Medicine.  It involves the insertion of sterile, stainless steel needles at specific points on the channels through which Qi (or energy) flows.  Stimulating these points helps restore the normal flow of Qi in the body so the internal organs and body systems can work together in harmony.  Restoring Qi flow helps to regulate the female hormones, can lower FSH levels, and break up masses (such as cysts, polyps or fibroids).  Acupuncture does this without any drugs or side effects.

In Oriental Medicine, herbal formulas are used to facilitate the body’s own restorative processes.  Acupuncturists in California are highly trained in the science of herbal medicine and a pharmacopeia that consists of about 500 Chinese herbs.  Chinese herbal formulas contain combinations of roots, seeds, grains, flowers, berries, fruit, bark, leaves, stems, shells, nuts, resin, or seaweed.  The goal of Chinese herbal medicine is to treat the root of a problem, rather than simply medicating its symptoms.  In so doing, the patient’s body is stimulated to heal itself.

  • Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine nourish and moves the blood; increasing blood flow to the uterus can enhance implantation of an embryo in the endometrium (uterine lining).
  • Acupuncture helps reduce stress – and if you’ve ever struggled to get pregnant or know someone who has, you know how stressful it can be.
  • Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine help improve egg quality (this takes at least 90 days), which is important for women of “advanced maternal age” (35 and over).  We’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have, and unfortunately, these eggs don’t get any younger.
  • Acupuncture, herbal medicine, good nutrition and moxibustion are excellent for helping women enhance their fertility in the months leading up to a couples’ attempt to get pregnant – whether there are known fertility problems or not.
  • Acupuncture helps IVF (in vitro fertilization) work better.  A well-known study showed that “clinical pregnancies were documented in 34 of 80 patients (42.5%) in the acupuncture group, whereas pregnancy rate was only 26.3% (21 out of 80 patients) in the control group.”  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11937123)
  • Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine help reduce the nasty side effects of the fertility drugs that are sometimes necessary to help women get pregnant, especially the cocktail of drugs used with IVF.

Sometimes, in the desire to get pregnant and have a baby, it’s easy to lose track of oneself.  I often see women becoming hyper-focused on those lines on the pee sticks, the fertile signs, and the image of a baby, baby, baby.  It’s easy to lose track of the fact that as childbearing women, we are our child’s house: everything we put into our bodies, the state of our emotional, physical and mental health affects not only our ability to conceive but also the way we grow the child inside us.  The beauty of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it takes the whole person into consideration; we do not only treat the disease or problem (i.e. infertility, endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), we treat the person’s whole ecosystem.

Learn more about using Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine to boost fertility here.

(Post by Abigail Morgan, L.Ac, of FLOAT: Chinese Medical Arts.)

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