Acupuncture works on the principals of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and uses tiny needles to prick pressure points around the body. These points are related to various ailments and body functions, including stress, fertility and chronic pain.
Working with your Qi
Many acupuncturists offer help with fertility, and it’s not uncommon for women undergoing IVF to combine it with acupuncture. Its aim is to ensure your body’s energy (Qi) is flowing evenly.
[Related story: What else might acupuncture help with?]
To understand the concept of energy flow, try comparing the body to a river system. The body’s energy lines, called meridians, are the canals where water flows. When the whole system is flowing well, the water moves through the canal system easily. But sometimes parts get boggy or dried out and the water doesn’t flow properly. In your body energy blocks can harm the flow of energy around your meridians. When this happens it can manifest as stress, headaches, lethargy, irregular periods and infertility. Sometimes you need a helping hand to stir up the water and get it flowing again, which is where the acupuncture comes in. The needles work like paddles, getting the energy flowing properly.
Acupuncture and your cycle
The first step to fertility is to sort out your cycle. Your acupuncturist should take a detailed medical history and will encourage you to have a medical exam to check that there’s nothing serious behind your trouble conceiving. You’ll probably be asked to keep a basal body temperature chart, which can help your acupuncturist understand the condition of your cycle.
Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years so sometimes it can sound a bit, well, hippy – but go with it!
Chinese medicine aims to create a perfect balance between the two forms of energy in our bodies at all times - the Yin and the Yang. Both energies are at work during the menstrual cycle. Yin is a nurturing, passive energy that encourages the growth of your endometrium to prepare it for an egg. The Yang is the warmer, more bustling energy that is associated with activity and growing. Acupuncture aims to balance these two energies perfectly so that for the first half of your cycle (immediately after your period until ovulation) the Yin is dominant. After ovulation the Yang takes over as the dominant form of energy to promote the growth and development of the embryo.
Each cycle you will have four appointments to encourage the changing and development of energy at different points - for example, around ovulation and at the start of your period. Appointments aren’t regular as you will need to schedule them according your individual cycle. Your acupuncturist should be flexible with this.
How does it work?
No one knows. Acupuncture appears to have a good track record with fertility, but there are few scientific studies to back it up and mostly its reputation is from personal experience. One suggestion is that its success is actually to do with stress reduction, which helps to relax the uterus and prepare it for a baby. Stress is a well-known inhibitor of pregnancy too, so just taking the time out to do something for yourself and the knowledge that you’re being pro-active can be just what your body needs. This has especially been reported for patients combining acupuncture with IVF.