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Acupuncture for Fertility, IVF/IUI & Egg Freezing

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In the United States, about 19% of couples are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying.  Fertility struggles are common, and can be caused by a variety of factors. These include hormonal imbalances, male factors (such as sperm quality), pre-existing gynecology conditions (such as PCOS and endometriosis), unexplained fertility, and age-related decline.


Acupuncture is a minimally invasive and multidimensional modality that can boost fertility and benefit your overall health. As an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility and women's health, I often get asked how acupuncture can support fertility naturally and increase the success of IVF. Let's break it down:

1) Stress Management

Stress can have a significantly negative impact on fertility by disrupting hormone levels and suppressing ovulation. Acupuncture can help regulate the body's stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Acupuncture can help alleviate anxiety and stress during the IVF process. According to a 2021 study, women who received acupuncture while undergoing IVF treatment had significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress than those who did not.

2) Improve blood flow to the reproductive organs

One of the main effects of acupuncture is improving blood circulation. Distal points along the meridians and local points close to the reproductive organs can help improve blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, which promotes healthy egg development. Better blood supply can also thicken the endometrial lining, which makes it easier for a fertilized egg to implant.

A detailed five years data study found that women who added a full course of acupuncture sessions (13-15 sessions) to their IVF treatment were twice as likely to have a baby compared to women who did IVF alone. The study also found that the acupuncture group had a higher rate of embryo implantation, suggesting that acupuncture may improve the chances of successful embryo implantation by improving blood flow to the uterus.

3) Hormone Regulation

Irregular menstrual cycles can make it difficult to conceive. Acupuncture can treat underlying gynecology conditions, help regulate cycles, and improve the regularity of ovulation. Acupuncture achieves this by impacting the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovary (HPO) axis to regulate hormone feedback loops, restore balance in the endocrine system, and improve thyroid functions. Acupuncture can also improve the quality of cervical mucus, which plays an important role in fertility by helping sperm reach and fertilize the egg.

4) Improve Egg and Sperm Quality

Sperm quality begins to decrease after 40, and egg quality drops after 35. Research has shown that acupuncture can improve the quality of eggs and sperm, which can then increase the chances of successful conception. Studies have shown that women who received acupuncture in conjunction with IVF treatment had a higher rate of mature follicles and higher-quality eggs. Studies have also found that men who received acupuncture had significantly higher sperm motility, a higher percentage of healthy sperm, and significant lower percentage of abnormal sperm.

5) Improve Overall Health and Wellbeing

Finally, acupuncture can support the overall health and well-being of the body. Acupuncture can help improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and support the immune system. These factors contribute to a healthy reproductive system and increase the chances of successful conception.

 

Fertility FAQs

How often do I need to get acupuncture for fertility?

Good things take time. I recommend starting weekly acupuncture at least three months before IVF or egg retrieval to prime the body.

It takes about a year for primordial follicles to develop and mature into the ovulatory stage.  So the earlier one starts preparing the body, the better. The three months leading up to ovulation is crucial to the development of a follicle. This is the time when the growing follicles develop and express majority of their receptor sites, responsive to the body's hormone stimulation.

 

So establishing a routine acupuncture treatment plan three months prior to conceiving or IVF, allows time for the body to regulate hormones that affect the growing follicles, and improve egg quality. If you are trying to conceive naturally, it doesn't hurt to try while receiving acupuncture, unless there are certain pre-existing conditions/ concerns, then a customized treatment plan will be established which might include waiting.

 

What is the recommended acupuncture protocol during IVF?

To optimize the benefits of acupuncture for fertility, my recommended protocol is:

Priming: weekly sessions for three months leading up to IVF/IUI/ egg freezing cycle

Stimulation Phase: twice a week

Embryo Transfer: one session before and one session post-transfer has been shown to be the most effective strategy

Post Transfer: weekly acupuncture can be considered during the waiting period to decrease stress and anxiety. It is also safe to receive acupuncture throughout pregnancy to treat any pregnancy-related discomforts, turn a breeched baby, prepare for labor & delivery, and postpartum recovery.

What does the research show about the efficacy of acupuncture for IVF?

To get a glimpse behind the recommended IVF protocol, here is a quality study that looked at five years of data from three groups of women:

1) women who did IVF alone 

2) women who added acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer 

3) women who had a full course of acupuncture during their IVF cycles (around 13 to 15 sessions) 

The researchers found that women who added a full course of acupuncture sessions were twice as likely to have a baby compared to women who did IVF alone, and 60% more likely when compared with women who only had pre and post-embryo transfer acupuncture treatments. The study also found that the acupuncture group had a higher rate of embryo implantation.

I have a low egg reserve, will I benefit from acupuncture?

 

Absolutely! Quality triumphs over quantity. Low AMH or low egg count is not a sentence for infertility. In fact, many of my patients with low AMH end up getting pregnant naturally. Fertility clinics look at these numbers to predict the number of eggs to be expected per cycle of fertility treatment from a statistics point of view. In no way does it give a full picture of one's fertility. Age is typically a better indicator of fertility. Acupuncture focuses on regulating hormones and improving egg quality, which are extremely meaningful for people with lower egg reserves and advanced maternal age.

 

Can Acupuncture Improve Egg Freezing Results?

Yes. Egg freezing is the first half of the IVF process involving hormone stimulation and egg retrieval. So the same advice stands to use weekly acupuncture to help regulate hormones, decrease stress, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, and improve egg quality. Post egg retrieval, acupuncture can also treat side effects of the medication such as inflammation, fluid retention, and weight gain. 

 

What else can I do to increase my chances of getting pregnant naturally?

Besides an acupuncture routine, there are many other tools one can use to improve fertility.

 

A) A healthy, wholefoods diet that includes high-quality proteins, healthy fats and antioxidants.

B) Find a high-quality prenatal vitamins that is 3rd-party-tested for contaminants and heavy metals.  

     Other supplements such as Co-Q10 and NAD+ can help improve egg quality.

C) Manage and lower stress levels.

D) Exercise regularly - too little or too much exercise can affect hormone regulation.

E) Maintain a healthy weight which can improve hormone regulation.

F) Get adequate, good-quality sleep.

G) Stop smoking and limit alcohol consumption.

H) Track ovulation closely by utilizing ovulation strips and/ or taking basal body temperature

" I went to get fertility-specific acupuncture treatment from Snow a few months before my IVF treatment. I have Low AMH/ low Ovarian reserves, so our focus was more on egg quality than number of follicles. Snow is very skillful and experienced at what she does. She guided me not only through the acupuncture treatments but also helped with my diet and stress management. She always made sure to select the best guided meditation or music specially geared towards fertility to help with my mindset and relaxation. She was flexible and managed my sessions through egg retrieval as well as embryo transfer. I would recommend her in a heartbeat for anyone struggling through infertility. Do not wait! Begin sessions with her 3 months before starting IVF, if possible, to get the best results. With help of her acupuncture treatments I was able to get healthy embryos and conceive through IVF and now I am 20 weeks pregnant with my miracle baby boy! Thank you Snow for your strong support during one of the most difficult time in my life! "

PG, Fertility Coach

Randall Johns, NY

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