How long does it take? Acupuncture for fertility and IVF support.

A photograph of a man and woman holding her pregnant abdomen.

I thought I’d do a series of thoughts on ‘How long does it take?

This one is thinking about acupuncture and a Chinese medicine approach to fertility and IVFsupport;

As always there are two main things to bear in mind – the first ‘how severe is the problem?’, the second is ‘how long has it been a problem for?’

The answer to both of these questions can hugely influence how much acupuncture andChinese medicine a person might need, to expect to see a difference.

The average number of acupuncture treatments that are estimated to see a definite difference is usually given as five, but sometimes I see amazing results from the first treatment, and sometimes progress is slower.
So saying, I would certainly hope to be seeing some positive changes after five sessions of acupuncture, regardless of the condition.
Sometimes the change might be ‘less pain’, for example with period pain –  or fewer mood swings. Sometimes a woman’s cycle might start becoming more regular of moving towards 28 days. With Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome things depend again on the severity of the condition. It might be a case of trying to initiate a period, shorten a cycle, stabilise blood sugar and control weight gain or just optimise things on the run up to IVF.

If the fertility problem is more in terms of sperm motility or number, then again the aim would be to optimise things over a period of weeks or months. I’ve seen amazing changes in all aspects of  sperm quality after a course of acupuncture along with Chinese medicine lifestyle advice.

With IVF support there are two key points for acupuncture intervention and a lot of research has centred around these two treatments. These times are just before and just after embryo implantation.

If time and finance were real constraints then just these two treatments would be the ones to go for.

In an ideal world most practitioners would aim to see a woman three months before IVF was due. This would give time to give a course of weekly sessions through one complete cycle (if cycles are actually happening of course), and gain enough understanding of the issues involved to aim further treatments at optimal points in the run up to IVF.

Sometimes the acupuncture sessions are particularly helpful in helping a woman or a couple cope with the stress of IVF – particularly with repeat IVF cycles. There are also acupuncture points which are specific to key events, for example for promoting ovulation, increasing blood flow to a healthy, thick womb lining, and gently damping down an adverse immune response toimplantation. There are also acupuncture points specific to helping minimise the risk of miscarriage.

Fertility support and particularly IVF support is an area where conventional Western medicine and Chinese medicine work particularly well together, and acupuncture is often a form of support which is recommended by IVF clinics.

For anyone who might be thinking about really focussing on fertility I’d recommend these things;

Look at your diet –  increase the quality and quantity of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, decrease the amount of processed food, sugar, alcohol and stimulants.

Finally make that last push to stop smoking.

Check your rubella immunity is up to date.

Start some gentle, regular exercise.

Take steps to reduce stress in your life.

And – of course – I’d recommend acupuncture and Chinese medicine!

Ovulation and egg quality.

An illustration of sperm moving towards the egg.

I’ve been talking to lots of people this week about egg quality and ovulation. I thought I’d give some thoughts from both a Chinese and Western medical perspective.

In Chinese Medicine the quality of a woman’s eggs is determined by a combination of factors; The health of that particular woman’s own mother and father and how her pregnancy went and also the diet and lifestyle of the same woman growing up. These form a baseline which is then influenced by how that women lives her adult life on a day to day basis.

This is echoed by modern Western medical evidence. Genetics play a large part in the number and quality of a woman’s eggs, but the environment the eggs develop in can be affected by lifestyle factors, and this in turn can impact on the egg itself.

The right hormones are needed in the right amounts at the right time during a woman’s cycle for an egg to grow, ripen and be released from an ovary. Stress, lack of sleep, exhaustion and unbalanced blood sugar all impact badly on hormonal balance and research shows that increased stress hormones can be detrimental to egg health.

In Chinese medicine a balance of rest, gentle exercise, good sleep and regular good quality nutrition helps fertility. A general principal is to aim to go to bed with a little bit of energy still left in reserve.

Drinking alcohol, smoking and having a poor diet increases a persons free radical load and free radicals damage both eggs and sperm. A diet rich in antioxidants helps to neutralise free radicals, so brightly coloured fruit and veg are really helpful in protecting vulnerable eggs and sperm.

Studies have shown that acupuncture can help increase blood flow to the pelvic area and the ovaries. A good blood flow allows more oxygen and nutrients to get through and helps boost the health of the eggs as well as helping thicken the developing endometrial lining ready to receive a fertilised egg.

The anti-inflammatory diet that I’m writing about at the moment contains some good principals for a healthy way of eating. Try it out!

Acupuncture for IVF in Cumbria

A photograph of a mother clutching her child; both smiling.

I’ve just come home after watching a fireworks display. It was a perfect night for it; clear skies, dry Autumn leaves underfoot and freshly bare branches of neighbouring trees back-lit by a huge bonfire.

I love fireworks and tonight they felt a real celebration for all the couples I’ve been lucky enough to have been helping, who haverecently had babies. Some have had long IVF run-ups to pregnancy, some just difficulty with natural conception. Some have had multiple miscarriages, some have had problems with sperm numbers, motility or morphology. Every type of difficulty that you could imagine with having a baby, in fact, crops up at some point in my clinic. You can imagine how wonderful it is for me to meet a baby at last, knowing how longed for that baby has been!

I mostly treat couples who are based in the South Lakes, Barrow-in-Furness, Ulverston, Kendal, Ambleside and Coniston; but people also travel from Whitehaven, Lancaster and further afield.

Particularly with IVF, I imagine that people are used to having to travel some distance for treatment. Our local IVF centres are Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow; so always a long drive or train journey away.

I’m happy to say that fertility support with acupuncture is well acknowledged these days in main stream medicine. I frequently see clients who have been recommended to use acupuncture to support their IVF treatment either by their GP, hospital or IVF centre.

Acupuncture has been shown to help in a whole range of ways; there are acupuncture points to reduce stress, to help implantation, to improve sperm count and quality, to improve the blood supply to the uterus, to thicken the womb lining, to prevent immune rejection, to reduce miscarriage, to stimulate ovulation; the list is endless!

I also work closely with Zita West’s clinic in London, using the advice from the clinics IVF team and nutritionalists to help advise my own clients. I’ve found this information base invaluable at times and can use to real, affordable advantage for my own clients, so thank you Zita!

And thank you to my recent cohort of mothers, fathers and babies! It’s been wonderful working with you!

Inducing labour with acupuncture

There are certain acupuncture points which need to be used with care during pregnancy, or even avoided altogether. These points have more of a ‘moving’ function and are used frequently to help, for example, with pain relief.

The one time during pregnancy when they come into their own is to help induce labour.

Using acupuncture in this way I like to try to get at least a couple of acupuncture sessions in before the gynae. deadline.

Very occasionally I have seen contractions starting almost as soon as the needles are put in place, (one mum’s waters broke during the treatment session a few weeks ago!).

More usually contractions start within the following two or three days, and then progress smoothly into full labour without the discomfort of hospital induction.

It’s another one of my favourite treatments, particularly if I’ve followed the same person  all the way, from fertility or miscarriage problems through a full term pregnancy and finally labour!

Acupuncture for breech babies

I’ve been doing a lot of work this week with the whole range of fertility and pregnancy treatment.

Some women have been coming with no obvious clinical problem, but wanting to maximise their health and fertility, perhaps after finding that a couple of years have gone by and no pregnancy.

Other women come with problems like polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis.

I also get a lot of referrals for acupuncture support through IVF treatment.

I’ll write in more detail about the acupuncture approach to each of these in later blogs as there’s so much to unravel in each case from a Chinese medicine point of view.

Meanwhile I’m soaking up some warm sunshine in the World Peace Cafe, one of my favourite places in Ulverston for lunch.

My last client was a lovely lady who I’ve supported at various stages through  her pregnancy. We were doing one of my all time favourite treatments; using moxa on Bl67 to help turn her baby from a breech position.

Fingers crossed, but in 15 years of acupuncture I truly can’t remember a single baby who hasn’t turned after this treatment!

Another moment of just loving my work!

The TCM Spleen and fertility

Problems with the Spleen, as it is meant clinically in Chinese medicine, has involvement in a whole range of conditions.

I’ve been talking to patients today about fertility, both male and female, miscarriage, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It might come as a surprise to find that the TCM Spleen has a role to play in all three of these.

In terms of miscarriage, this involvement is to do with the Spleen’s function of containing and holding in place. Long term Spleen deficiency weakens this ability and the clinical result can be bleeding, and risk of miscarriage.

Another outcome of a chronically weakened Spleen function is that Damp and Phlegm can accumulate. Again these are very much TCM terms which I’ll talk about more another time. The relevance here is that these conditions can cause obstructed functioning. In PCOS we often see weight gain, delayed or missing periods and a failure of the ovaries to reliably release an egg. Obstructions may also involve blocked fallopian tubes or poor sperm production or release.

From a Chinese medical point of view other factors are often involved too in these conditions and, again, I’d like to cover these in future posts.

The year of the Dragon.

More coming on the conditions that acupuncture is used for. In the meantime here’s a link to what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends. It is based on a review and analysis of reports of controlled clinical trials and ranges from migraines to shoulder, neck and back pain and includes a lot of things that might to be unexpected, like induction of labour, depression, and insomnia.

It has recently changed to the year of the dragon and what I really felt like talking about at the start of this baby-focussed year, was fertility; specifically how acupuncture is currently used to help with fertility issues. The dragon is considered the luckiest sign of all in China. The last two dragon years have both meant a ten percent increase in births in Asia because of this link with increased fortune!

Chinese medicine has a long history of helping with all types of fertility issues, from recurrent miscarriage to IVF support and even increasing sperm motility and mobility! I have worked alongside Zita West’s fertility clinic in London for the last 2 years. This gives my clients access to a whole wealth of her experience and expertise. There are so many different ways in which it is possible to optimise both female and male fertility and to help give IVF treatment the maximum chance of success.

Dietary advice is key, looking at a couples dietary and life style habits and making sure that they are getting it right. I can draw on advice here from Zita West’s London based top nutritionists and clinicians.

For women embarking on IVF a whole host of benefits can be derived from acupuncture treatment.
There are acupuncture points and combinations to help de-stress, to enhance blood flow to the endometrial lining, to promote ovulation, to regulate the menstrual cycle, to extend the post luteal phase… the list is endless. I’ll attach a few published articles and research papers.

At the moment 1 in 7 women are seeking help to have a baby.
Chinese medicine has a long history of being part of helping things along.

What conditions can acupuncture be used for?

When I’m at work there are some questions which I’m asked a lot, and this is one of them; “What conditions do I see most of at work?”

I wondered this myself when I first started working as an acupuncturist fifteen years ago. What problems would people in the West go to an acupuncturist for? And more specifically, because I had just moved to a very rural part of the Lake District, what would local people feel acupuncture could be helpful for?

The answer was a surprise to me, probably because of my own work history.

My background, before becoming an acupuncturist, had been in main-stream medicine; I’d always been in medical research in some form or other with a specialism in the genetics of cancer.
I had ended up in Japan developing a medical genetics research centre in the middle of no-where, a couple of hours outside Tokyo. While I was there I saw acupuncture used as front-line medicine. It was what you got first if you went to your local Japanese GP equivalent.

My own experience, a visit to the company doctor to check up on a minor stomach upset, resulted in a traditional Chinese medicine consultation, some Chinese herbs and my first experience of acupuncture. I emerged waving my packet of herbs and asking to “be sent to a proper doctor now”!
My nonplussed Japanese work colleagues, who had access to the most sophisticated and expensive technological advances available replied, of course, “but that was a proper doctor”!

I left Japan at the end of my contract with a considerably expanded view of medicine. I could see the strength of using Chinese medicine alongside the conventional medical approach that is currently available in the West, and I wanted to learn more about acupuncture.

I’m not sure why I had thought that acupuncture could just be useful for pain relief.

Certainly my experience in Japan, seeing Chinese medicine routinely used in action, was to see it being used to treat almost anything that a person would consult a doctor for.

My subsequent training, three years of acupuncture and four years of Chinese herbs, taught me the same message; there are acupuncture points and Chinese herbs that treat every condition that a person might suffer from, from low energy to eye infections. Because Chinese medicine is still a developing and current system of medicine, with new acupuncture points and herb combinations appearing all the time in hospitals and clinics, it has a frame-work for treating more ‘modern’ problems like assisting with IVF.