Can acupuncture sessions improve female fertility and help a couple get pregnant? I interviewed a certified contemporary medical acupuncturist about her practice, traditional Chinese medicine, and conception rates for couples. I also gathered research on how acupuncture affects fertility rates for men and women.
“Acupuncture for fertility involves the insertion of needles to the reproductive organ sites for both women and men,” says Certified Contemporary Medical Acupuncturist Nancy Winlove-Smith. “The acupuncture needle’s function is to increase blood flow by bathing the area in additional nutrients and hormones found in the blood stream. The result can be measured by the increase in follicle and egg production. Some women have anatomical differences that can interfere with optimal blood flow when positioned near or touching other internal structures found in the pelvic region. Diet also plays a crucial role: if the blood supply does not contain quality nutrients, the eggs produced may not be of good quality. Acupuncture for fertility is only one part of the process to a successful conception, and my clients always receive dietary recommendations.”
Here is a summary of the latest research on acupuncture for fertility treatments, plus highlights of my interview with acupuncturist Nancy Winlove-Smith. I also included links to my previous articles on acupuncture and getting pregnant.
Acupuncture for Fertility and Your Chances of Pregnancy
Acupuncture increases the chances of pregnancy for some fertility clinics. The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine studied the effects of acupuncture when used as a complementary or adjuvant therapy for in vitro fertilization (IVF). They found that acupuncture for fertility may be beneficial, depending on the baseline pregnancy rates of a fertility clinic.
Acupuncture increases success rates at fertility clinics with low pregnancy rates. “Our systematic review of current acupuncture/IVF research found that for IVF clinics with baseline pregnancy rates higher than average (32 percent or greater) adding acupuncture had no benefit,” says Eric Manheimer, lead author and research associate at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. “However, at IVF clinics with baseline pregnancy rates lower than average (less than 32 percent) adding acupuncture seemed to increase IVF pregnancy success rates. We saw a direct association between the baseline pregnancy success rate and the effects of adding acupuncture: the lower the baseline pregnancy rate at the clinic, the more adjuvant acupuncture seemed to increase the pregnancy rate.”
Why is acupuncture for fertility less successful at clinics with high rates of pregnancy? According to these researchers, international differences may be one factor in varying baseline pregnancy rates in the studies they analyzed. For example, they say European clinics may have lower IVF pregnancy rates than U.S. clinics because European countries are increasingly moving towards single embryo transfers. “Another potential explanation for the different effects of acupuncture in trials with higher versus lower baseline rates may be that in IVF settings where the baseline pregnancy rates are already high, the relative added value of additional complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, may be lower,” adds Manheimer.
Acupuncture for fertility is the most commonly used complementary therapy for getting pregnant for couples at fertility clinics in the United States. Acupuncture is a safe procedure, but research has not determined whether any benefits on IVF success rates resulting from adding acupuncture are worth the extra costs involved with administering acupuncture. This research on acupuncture for fertility was published in the online journal Human Reproduction Update.
“When we’re willing to listen to our bodies and begin trusting ourselves as much as we trust outer authorities, all the rules change,” says Dr Christiane Northrup in How Do You Find a Fertility Acupuncturist?. “And so does our biology. Statistics no longer apply to us. We enter the realm of miracles and undreamed-of possibilities.”
Should You Try Acupuncture to Increase Your Chances of Pregnancy?
Here are a few things to consider, if you’re wondering whether Chinese Medicine will help you get pregnant. Acupuncture won’t harm you or your potential pregnancy, but it may not help. It depends on your lifestyle and reasons for not getting pregnant.
Both men and women can benefit from acupuncture for fertility – but not all do. In our case, it was male infertility that was preventing pregnancy. My husband tried Chinese herbal tea and acupuncture for fertility, and it did nothing for us. That’s because our infertility had a genetic cause, and all the acupuncture in the world can’t change your genes! Before you try acupuncture for fertility, find out why you’re not getting pregnant.
The number of acupuncture treatments you will need depends on your overall health, your body’s response to acupuncture and/or Western reproductive treatments, and the nature and duration of your health or infertility condition. When you consult with an acupuncture or naturopath, make sure you ask how many treatments they think you’ll need. I suspect more is better, because it can take some time for your body come into balance and holistic health. Acupuncture for fertility probably won’t make you pregnant overnight!
For women, acupuncture for fertility has been known to:
- Regulate menstrual cycles.
- Regulate hormones to produce a better quality eggs and to produce a larger number of follicles during infertility treatments, decreasing FSH levels if elevated, and increasing estrogen levels if these are low.
- Increase implantation rates in in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination by 40%.
- Decrease uterine contractions, thus increasing implantation rates and decreasing the chance of miscarriage.
- Increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and nourishing the thickness of the uterine lining.
- Improve sperm quality and quantity.
- Help to relieve the side effects of stimulation drugs during assisted reproductive technology or infertility treatments.
- Easing stress, anxiety and depression, and promoting deep relaxation.
Acupuncture for fertility is painless and relaxing. Acupuncture needles are very fine and flexible, about the diameter of a human hair. In most cases, insertion by a skilled acupuncturist is performed without discomfort. Most patients find the treatments very relaxing and many fall asleep during treatment.
If you want to learn more about Chinese medicine, talk to a naturopath or acupuncturist. The first visit should be free for patients who are interested in learning more about acupuncture for fertility.
Beautiful Babies: Nutrition for Fertility, Pregnancy, Breast-feeding, and Baby’s First Foods by Kristen Michaelis is a fantastic resource for couples trying to get pregnant. Remember that acupuncture for fertility doesn’t stand alone; you need a more holistic approach to getting pregnant.
I welcome your thoughts on how acupuncture for fertility affects your chances of pregnancy. I can’t offer advice or help for getting pregnant – please talk to your gynecologist, urologist, or fertility doctor if you’re having trouble getting pregnant.
The Zensufu Complete Acupressure Mat and Pillow is a wonderful option if you’re not comfortable with the idea of acupuncture needles. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but does not involve an acupuncturist putting needles in various body parts.