You’ve been on Google and you’ve done your research.   You now know that acupuncture is often used to help people enhance their fertility and you’re interested in giving it a try.  However, you have some questions.  How does it work?  Who should I see?  How do I find them?  How long should I be doing it for?  What is a “TCM practitioner” anyway?

In this guide, I will be taking you on a step by step journey as to how you should be using acupuncture to help with your fertility.  From how to find the best acupuncturist for your needs to which resources you should be introduced to and what the current science is saying about how acupuncture can help you get pregnant.

The Steps:

#1 When Should You Start Seeing an Acupuncturist?

#2  How to Find a Fertility Acupuncturist

#3  Getting the Plan You Need to Succeed

#4  Resources You Should Be Introduced To

#5  Treatment Options You Should be Provided

#6  The Science Behind it All

#7  Self Care “Must-Do’s”

Step #1

When Should You Start Seeing an Acupuncturist?

People first come to see me at various points in their infertility journey. 

Many couples are going through fertility treatments already and are looking to enhance their success with acupuncture.  On the other hand, some couples are more interested in learning all they can about how natural methods like acupuncture can improve their chances.

Which Situation Best Describes You?:

  • You’re not quite ready for a fertility clinic – you’re only interested in natural methods to enhance your fertility
  • You’re already working with a medical fertility clinic – you’re looking to enhance your IUI or IVF success with natural methods
  • Your IVF transfer is fast approaching and you’ve read that acupuncture may help your chances
  • You have been told your fertility issues are “unexplained”
  • You’re interested in treating a specific infertility diagnosis (i.e. PCOS or low sperm count etc.)
  • You’ve been “let go” from a medical fertility clinic – (advanced age or extremely low AMH)

Whatever your unique situation is, you are likely to learn some helpful information from someone who practices in the world of natural fertility enhancement. 

However, my suggestion to people is that if you have been trying for one year without success, it is time to start looking for answers.  Moreover, if either of you are over the age of 35 and have been trying for 6 months, you should start the process of looking for more answers. 

Bottom line – everyone’s time-line is different. 

Some couples want things to happen yesterday – while others are willing to try and let things happen on their own.  You and your practitioner should have a good idea as to what this timeline is as it can affect how the treatment plan is laid out.  Not to mention, it may be a topic which you and your partner should be discussing anyway.

For Those Who Want Natural Methods Only…

Something I always mention to people who first come to see me is to keep an open mind about seeing a medical fertility clinic. 

The tools that people like myself have to enhance your fertility are valuable and helpful but we simply do not have the technology that medical fertility clinics have access to.  Blood work, ultrasounds and other aspects of cycle monitoring can be extremely valuable information which can improve your chances.  If you choose to work with an acupuncturist who tells you not to go the medical acupuncture route, you need to rethink your practitioner. 

This brings us to our next topic…

Step #2

How To Find Your Acupuncturist

I wrote an article about this subject a while back (see it here).  However, I will assume that most people looking for an acupuncturist are doing so with the help of the internet. 

This is a good thing…here’s why. 

Practitioners you want to find should have a strong web presence. 

Put a search in Google for “YOUR CITY fertility acupuncture” (i.e. Houston fertility acupuncture or Toronto fertility acupuncture).  Don’t forget to put “fertility” as you will get a hit on every single person who does acupuncture and you want to narrow your search as much as possible to the practitioners who have either written about fertility or have it as a main focus. 

After you have found a few people who suit your needs, try to find someone who is close to work or home for convenience sake. 

Then, send them an email! 

See how interested they are in your situation.  You will get a sense if they are right for you by the tone of their response. 

Use these websites to help find your Acupuncturist:

American Board of Oriental and Reproductive Medicine – ABORM  http://www.aborm.org/

National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine – NCCAOM  http://www.nccaom.org/find-a-practitioner-directory/

College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario – CTCMPAO    https://www.ctcmpao.on.ca/publicregistersrc/

What Your First Visit Should Look Like

Most acupuncturists seem to get this right but there are a few things which should be different when seeing an acupuncturist for fertility enhancement.

First, the intake form you fill out should clearly have some fertility specific questions.  This should show that your acupuncturist is familiar with dealing with this often complicated issue. 

When you are in the room with your acupuncturist, you should easily get the sense that the questions you are being asked are specific to your fertility concerns.  In depth questions about your diagnosis (if you have one), questions about your cycle length, your cycle regularity, your period (i.e. pain, colours, clotting, viscosity, days of bleeding), when you ovulate, whether or not cervical mucous is present, libido, whether or not you can achieve and maintain an erection – the list goes on and on (and gets super personal!).  However, the more info your acupuncturist has, the better they are able to treat your issue.

After the more “Western” medical questions are completed, you should be getting into more Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) questions.  I always say “these questions seem unrelated to your fertility concern but they are important for me to complete your TCM diagnosis”. 

Questions related to things such as:

  • Body temperature
  • Sweating
  • Appetite
  • Digestion
  • Diet
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Stress

and more…

If you are not being asked about these issues, you are not being treated by a TCM practitioner.

After the questions are complete, you should ideally get a chance to experience an acupuncture session with your practitioner so you can get a sense of what treatment would be like. 

Your acupuncture treatment should be comfortable.  Needle sensation is important for the treatment to have an affect but you should be able to relax once the needles are in.  The room should be warm and you should be draped appropriately on the table.  Music is typically played and lights are usually dimmed to enhance the relaxation aspect of treatment. 

The full amount of time you should be with your acupuncturist for your initial treatment should be 75-90 minutes.  The needles are typically in place for 25-30 minutes.

Step #3

Getting a Plan

All of my fertility clients receive a “health summary’ after their initial consultation and treatment.  The summary is typically a 4-5 page report containing all of the things I think they should be doing to give themselves the best chance at conception.  Things outlined in the summary contain important items such as:

  • A treatment plan (how frequent the acupuncture needs to be etc.)
  • Links to important resources relative to their fertility concern
  • Necessary attachments (BBT charts, relevant links etc.)
  • Dietary information (foods to avoid, foods to consume etc.)
  • Supplement information (which supplements to take, how much and when it is best to do so)
  • Lifestyle advice

and more…

You need a plan. 

Make sure your practitioner makes it easy for you to follow their advice and don’t be afraid to ask them questions once a plan is in place.

Step #4

Resources You Should be Introduced To

As most people who are dealing with infertility know, there are many different resources to consider out there on the internet…too many, in fact.

I think it is important for practitioners who help couples with infertility to be able to weed through the bad information and to provide easy access to the good. 

For example, as a TCM practitioner, we value the information provided by basal body temperatures (BBT’s).  The temperatures can help people like me decide what is going wrong and what is going right – and to apply appropriate treatment. 

Other resources commonly dispensed in my clinic setting involve the following:

  • Fertility support information – therapists, support groups, web forums and articles to help people cope with infertility
  • Helpful products – like sperm friendly lubricants, ovulation predicting tests and helpful apps
  • Dietary information – diets specific to the infertility concern
  • Book suggestions
  • Links to current research

Keep a folder on your computer and store all your fertility related resources in one spot so you can access them quickly and easily. 

Step #5

Treatment Options You Should be Provided

Acupuncture

As a TCM practitioner and nutritionist, there are a number of different treatment options which can be provided to help enhance the fertility of both men and women.  The most common treatment and the one that most people are familiar with is acupuncture.  For acupuncture to be effective, treatment is typically on a weekly basis.  In some cases, more or perhaps less would be advised.  For more on how acupuncture works for fertility, see below.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

Another important treatment option from a TCM practitioner is Chinese herbal medicine.  Herbs are often applied but are not always necessary.  In my opinion, people who take the herbs often have the best results but I am aware that they are an extra cost which is not covered (unlike acupuncture which is typically covered through people’s insurance).

Supplements

Supplements are often suggested for both men and women going through fertility treatments.  Even medical fertility clinics are providing supplements which is a testament to how important they can be for success. 

However, the world of supplements is an overwhelming one and guidance is necessary. 

Due to the importance of supplementing, I knew I needed extra training to make sure I was confident in what I was providing my clients.  When you are working with your practitioner, ask them what extra training they have done to improve their ability to prescribe supplements safely and effectively.

Dietary Advice

Dietary suggestions can also improve treatment outcomes.  As TCM practitioners, we have a background in TCM diet therapy.  You may be asked to add or remove foods based on the TCM diagnosis you are given.  It may seem odd to have someone tell you that raw, cold foods (like salads) may be harming your fertility but according to TCM diet therapy, this may be a suggestion you will receive. 

Dietary suggestions may also extend outside the realm of TCM. 

For example, you may be asked to reduce certain foods which are known to promote inflammation which can harm fertility.  Or perhaps you will be asked to reduce foods known to reduce sperm count like deli meats.  There is a lot of information out there specific to diet and your practitioner should be able to guide you to which foods are helpful and which foods are not.

Are Natural Methods Best?

This brings me to another area which I think deserves some time. 

Many clients first arrive at my clinic only wanting to use natural methods to get themselves pregnant and that is terrific.  However, I always let them know that if I feel they may benefit from medical treatments, I will certainly let them know. 

TCM practitioners do not have access to blood work and ultrasounds and all the other technologies which a fertility clinic may have.  Information is power in this journey and the key is to keep all doors open. 

Think about how you would feel 20 years down the road – would you regret that you didn’t try anything and everything to have a baby? 

I encourage everyone to remain open to other treatments.  Quite often the combination of natural treatments in conjunction with medical methods are the most successful.

Step #6

Is There Science to Prove It Works?

Most of my clients are already professional Googlers and have figured out that acupuncture seems to help with fertility.  They may not know the mechanisms of action but they understand that there is enough research to know that “something” is happening.

Thankfully, there is quite a lot of scientific information out there to conclude that acupuncture does indeed have an affect on the body and seems to “regulate” the hormones involved with male and female fertility.

Here are some key scientific discoveries:

Transcutaneous Electrical Acupoint Stimulation Improves the Outcomes of In Vitro Fertilization: A Prospective, Randomized and Controlled Study.

*Quick Scoop – electro acupuncture at a specific frequency seems to improve IVF outcomes!

Increase of success rate for women undergoing embryo transfer by transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation: a prospective randomized placebo-controlled study

* Quick Scoop – more on electro acupuncture improving IVF outcomes

Efficacy of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine in the management of female infertility: a systematic review.

*Quick Scoop – Taken over a few months, TCM herbs appear to improve pregnancy outcomes.

Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment.

Impact of whole systems traditional Chinese medicine on in-vitro fertilization outcomes.

* Quick Scoop – Using all facets of TCM (acupuncture plus herbs, TCM diet and lifestyle suggestions) seem to be better than acupuncture alone for IVF success.

Step #7

Self Care “Must Do’s”

Exercise

Exercise is good for so many reasons – it reduces stress, it can regulate a cycle, it keeps weight in check and just overall makes you feel good! 

You should be trying your best to fit at least 30min of exercise in around 3 times per week.  Walking is underrated and absolutely qualifies!  Not to mention that this is one of the only things during the fertility enhancement process which is FREE (unless you need to go to a gym for motivation).  Take advantage of this important self care option.

Just try to avoid heavy lifting exercises such as deadlifts and heavy squatting – particularly in your luteal phase.  These types of exercises can increase abdominal pressure and this is something you may want to reduce if there is a chance you are pregnant.

Having Patience

Going through infertility is stressful…understatement of the year. 

The last thing most people want to hear is that the treatment they are about to commit to is going to take time.  Time is what most of my clients are fighting against but it is important to know that making changes with people’s fertility is not a quick process.  Most people are aware that is takes 3 months for both sperm and egg cells to mature.  This means that I ask patients to dedicate at least this much time to the process…and sometimes more depending on the situation.

Everyone’s timeline is different – some of my clients are happy to wait the 3 months while others start to feel the pinch and are not sure if they can afford to wait.  In my opinion, if you haven’t tried using therapies like acupuncture, herbs, supplements and diet to improve your fertility, no matter your timeline, you should definitely consider it. 

If you know you are heading towards IVF and are perhaps waiting for your initial appointment with a fertility doctor, consider starting natural treatments while you wait for that consultation.   Take advantage of the time you have before your eggs are retrieved or your sperm is needed.

Cautious Optimism

Treating infertility is difficult.  Emotionally and clinically.  The issues which typically come in to my clinic are difficult to treat cases and not everyone gets what they came for…even after months of treatment.   

If I wanted to have successes every day of my practice, I wouldn’t be in the fertility world.  I could treat pain and most of my clients would feel better right after their treatment!  That would make us both feel good – the patient is in less pain and I feel like I helped someone – win win!

Until there is a clear end to your fertility journey, you absolutely need to remain optimistic.   It is important that you are hopeful and confident in the treatments you are getting – whether they are natural or medical. 

I hope this guide is helpful for you on your fertility journey!

– Drew

Are you ready to take the next step?  Book in with me or consider an online consultation if you are not in the Toronto area.