When you walk into our clinic you can quickly tell we treat a lot of fertility and pregnancy. There’s a wall of baby pictures, Mothering magazines in the waiting room, a stack of children’s books and toys, plus the Pregnancy and Mother’s Milk Tea we offer alongside the traditional green and black varieties.
We still treat a good deal of non-reproductive health issues: back pain, allergies, anxiety, stress and digestive problems, just to name a few. Occasionally, when these non-reproductive health patients come into the office for the first time they second-guess if they are in the right place. Sometimes, a patient who is not looking to conceive will ask me if there are acupuncture points I could use to help her to not get pregnant, to which I always reply, “a healthy body is a fertile body.” Fertility is a reflection of good overall reproductive health, which is something to be celebrated.
The word “fertility” should not be feared by those who don’t wish to get pregnant (or at least, not yet). Currently, the American birthrate is at a record low: see this recent article in TIME for more on that.
As someone who hasn’t yet had children myself, I understand as much as anyone the desire to choose when to have kids. But the common approach for women seems to be to ignore their reproductive organs all together until suddenly it is the right time to get pregnant, and then everything is expected to work perfectly, right on cue. Hormone flows can easily be overridden with birth control pills and menstrual cramps can be hidden with pain killers, but neither fix the underlying conditions that are causing the symptoms.
Oral contraceptive pills are known to cause a number of side effects. Quite a few women report The Pill causes them to have scanty or complete lack of menses (amenorrhea). I often hear those patients say “my gynecologist says it’s normal” – in fact, those symptoms are common, but they’re not normal. A regular menstrual cycle is a strong indicator of a healthy reproductive organs and is very important to pay attention to.
The combination of many years of a neglected reproductive system, plus the decision to wait until later in life to conceive, often leads to problems for women once they are ready, and it is becoming more and more common. This is why women of childbearing age must start thinking about their reproductive health, whether or not they wish to have children.
Here are 3 simple suggestions to help those of you who don’t wish to conceive (either not now, or never) but still wish to enhance your reproductive health:
1. Educate Yourself
Educate yourself well when it comes to your body; you’re stuck with it! I recommend women learn about the physiology of their reproductive organs: how everything works, and how to tell when it’s not working well. Get regular Well-Woman exams (paps as recommended by your OB/GYN, STD screenings, and annual check-ups with your primary care physician). Make sure you read up on and ask plenty of questions about any medications, vaccinations, contraceptives, or procedures before you give your consent. If you have any other health conditions (especially a genetic condition, an endocrine or auto-immune disorder), learn about how these conditions may potentially affect your reproductive health.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility is the first resource I provide to a woman who is hoping to learn more about her fertility. We have two copies in the lending library of our clinic, but many women find they need one of their own. It explains all the phases of the menstrual cycle, how to identify your fertile window, and the physiology of getting pregnant. It is a great resource for both women looking to conceive as well as those looking to avoid getting pregnant by better understanding when they can and cannot conceive.
In fact, I think many of the tools women trying to get pregnant use (such as taking her basal temperature each morning or using ovulation predictor kits) are important tools for any woman wishing to take a close look at her cycle and make sure it is functioning normally.
2. Pay Attention
You know best what is normal and what is not. Pay attention and keep notes in a journal or calendar, so you can notice the patterns that arise. How many days does each cycle last? (We measure cycle length from Day One of bleeding to the next Day One of bleeding.) Is it regular? When do you ovulate? Does it change each month? What is the quality and quantity of your flow? How much pain do you experience? Do any other symptoms arise at the same time each cycle?
Chinese medicine pays close attention to all signs and symptoms and employs acupuncture and herbs to treat the underlying condition accordingly. Whether the body needs to be warmed up, blood needs to be moved, or the mind needs to be calmed, these can be simple adjustments with acupuncture treatments, herbal prescriptions, and diet/lifestyle adjustments.
In Western medicine, however, oral contraceptive pills seem to be the tool of choice for most menstrual disorders, despite the fact that the synthetic hormones do not usually correct any underlying problems. Many symptoms that are mild or considered “within normal limits” are ignored completely.
3. Stay Healthy
PMS, irregular menstruation, painful periods, or periods with heavy bleeding are signs that something is out of balance. Pay attention to them.
Do all you can to stay in general health and your reproductive health will follow. That means eat well, avoid stress and toxins, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly. There are many foods and herbs you can take to improve specific conditions; a Licensed Acupuncturist can help direct you towards what works best for you.
(Post by Jacqueline Gabardy, L.Ac, of FLOAT: Chinese Medical Arts; photo credits: Moxa by Dave Clark Photography, Taking Charge of Your Fertility from tcoyf.com, Journal by Rory MacLeod, Physical Activity by Military Health)