Acupuncture and herbal medicine when performed and prescribed by an experienced fertility acupuncturist can greatly enhance your chances of getting pregnant naturally or through IUI/IVF.
Reasons Why Acupuncture Helps Fertility Outcomes
- Improved Circulation and Blood Flow to the Reproductive Organs, Including Improving Endometrial Lining
- Enhance Sperm and Egg Quality
- Regulates the Neuroendocrine System and the HPO (Hypothalamic Pituitary Ovarian) Axis
- Reduces the Stress Hormone Cortisol - Cortisol Can Interfere with Female and Male Hormonal Balance (Bonus: Acupuncture will make you feel less stressed and anxious!)
However, in addition to 1-2 acupuncture treatments per week (1 each week, but 2 the week of ovulation if possible) we can also use herbal medicine in conjunction with acupuncture to enhance your fertility naturally.
I will usually recommend that we try acupuncture alone for the first 1-2 months. For some women, a little boost to the system is all that is needed and the acupuncture provides that. However, some women will need more support and that's where herbal medicine comes in.
Using Herbal Medicine in Correspondence with the Menstrual Phases to Enhance Fertility
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, the menstrual cycle has four distinct phases that we work with during treatment.
Phase one is the menstrual phase and we are focusing on making sure that the lining of the uterus is sloughed off smoothly and successfully, so that we can ensure that a healthy endometrial lining will grow in its place. We can use herbal medicine and acupuncture to help us with this task as well as help ease symptoms of cramping. This is accomplished by "moving blood" and also "nourishing blood" during the menstrual phase. Some of the herbs I use in this phase are dang gui and red peony root, as both are blood moving herbs. Herbs are selected and customized on the individual presentation of each patient.
During the second phase of the cycle, the follicular phase, when the follicles are growing, from a Chinese medicine perspective we are focused on "nourishing yin" and also some nourishment of blood. In acupuncture theory, yin states and substances help to nourish and grow things (in this case: eggs). The concept of yin also corresponds with the hormone estrogen, which is dominant in this phase. You can think of a seed being in a yin state when it is underground and being nourished by the nutrients in the soil and water. Some of the yin nourishing herbs that might be used are rehmannia root and wild yam.
In the third phase of the menstrual cycle, the ovulatory phase, we are viewing this as a time for "moving qi" from a Chinese Medicine perspective. This is when the egg needs to be successfully released from the ovary and travel down the fallopian tube. This takes a lot of energy and we need to make sure that energy doesn't get stuck. This is where the concept of "qi moving" comes in. We can use herbal medicine for this, but acupuncture is even better in this phase so we often recommend 2 acupuncture treatments the week of ovulation. Herbs that may be selected are dodder seed, dang gui and cyperus, but sometimes we just use acupuncture in this phase.
In the fourth phase, the luteal phase, we are focusing on "nourishing yang energy" as well as "lifting, holding and consolidating." Yang energy corresponds with progesterone, which sustains early pregnancy. When I am doing acupuncture treatments in this phase, I use a treatment cutely nicknamed "hold the baby treatment," which focuses on points for raising energy, nourishing yang and holding it in place. This helps to support early pregnancy and prevent miscarriage. For herbal medicine we may use herbs such as white atractylodes (which helps to lift and hold) and Sichuan teasel root (which nourishes yang...roughly corresponding to progesterone).
These herbs are used for anywhere from 1-4 months to enhance fertility, but may be tweaked and changed each month as needed. In addition to the phased herbs, I often prescribe certain nutrients, other herbs and antioxidants that can support hormonal balance and signaling as well as enhance egg quality. Some of my favorites are magnesium, zinc, ubiquinol, and NAC.
I prescribe all of my herbs and nutrients in either capsule form or tincture (liquid) form to enhance compliance. I've found this to be critical to success, because it won't work if it doesn't get taken!
What About the Male Partner?
It is usually a good idea to have the male partner receive acupuncture treatment as well, because it does indeed take two to tango, especially in this case! This becomes even more important if there is any known issue with sperm quality, or if the male partner is stressed out, has low energy or any other health conditions. These symptoms are signs that his vitality is a little low, which could absolutely impact his fertility and the ability of his sperm to fertilize an egg. Certain nutrients and herbs can also be prescribed, some of my favorites for males are a good B complex with extra folate, zinc, ubiquinol and tribulus.
Read more about our fertility acupuncture services here.