For a pregnancy to occur, there are many factors in a woman's body that must be balanced and healthy.
Men must also have normal, strong sperm, which can be affected by diet, lifestyle and overall health.
When we are young, we are typically more fertile and resilient. But as we age we not only experience the natural decline of cell quality but are also exposed to stress, environmental toxins, and potentially poor dietary and lifestyle choices as well as disease. As a result, getting pregnant can become more challenging. However, couples struggling to conceive have many options for improving their odds, and most couples become pregnant as long as they keep pursuing their options.
Western medical techniques for fertility are typically focused on targeted intervention in the uterus and ovaries involving manipulating ovulation, surgical procedures (to treat polyps, cysts, endometriosis or fibroids), and artificial reproductive technologies like intrauterine insemination and in vitro fertilization.
The Eastern medical approach, on the other hand, focuses on helping the body self-correct and improves the function and health of the reproductive organs as well as the entire system.
Both the Western and Eastern approaches to fertility have limitations. But studies have shown that when used together, they can work better than either one alone. I'm a modern doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in New York City, and I work with couples trying to achieve pregnancy.
Eastern or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is the oldest medicine still widely used today. It evolved over thousands of years and includes acupuncture, a sophisticated herbal system, therapeutic nutrition, qi gong and targeted massage called tui na. Women's menstrual cycles in Chinese medicine are a huge indicator of overall health, so whether a patient is trying to get pregnant or is undergoing treatments for migraines, anxiety or anything else, information about the menstrual cycle is always tracked. As health improves, cycles and periods may also change, so as headaches get better, PMS or cramps may resolve as well.
Everything is connected in TCM theory, which is why working holistically on any and all symptoms also improves fertility.
Studies have shown that TCM can help improve fertility and reproductive health in many ways. It can stimulate ovulation in women with amenorrhea (no periods) and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), the leading cause of hormonal dysfunction in women in America. Treatments can also help make cycles more regular, reduce menstrual cramps and PMS, manage endometriosis, thicken a uterine lining that is too thin for conception and optimize ovarian function. In one study, women working with a TCM practitioner showed a twofold increase in pregnancy rates over a three- to four-month period.
Acupuncture combined with Western fertility treatments can yield higher pregnancy and live birth rates, as well as help reduce symptoms of stress during these intense treatments.
Because practitioners of Chinese medicine approach fertility in a holistic way, it's important to be aware of your overall health as you are preparing or trying to conceive. Improving your health prior to becoming pregnant may prevent health issues during the pregnancy or postpartum.
Here are 5 ways to improve your reproductive health from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine:
1. Clean up your diet.
Unless you have a healthy formed bowel movement at least once a day and do not have any digestive symptoms, you might have some work to do on your diet and gut health.
Digestion is the root of both energy and blood production for conception, so having a healthy gut and diet are crucial. You may need to experiment with eliminating common food allergens like gluten and dairy from your diet to see if your symptoms improve. Taking a high-quality probiotic can also be helpful.
Focus on organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins. Minimize processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and sweets. If you have PCOS, minimize sugar and carbohydrates. If you are vegan or vegetarian and have very light periods, you may want to supplement with vegan protein powder.
2. Warm your belly.
The lower abdomen stores the energy battery or “fire" in Chinese medicine, and some cases of infertility can be from “cold" in the uterus, so try warming your abdomen gently during the time after your period until ovulation. Use a hot water bottle or heating pad on medium for 20 minutes in the evenings. If you have intense cramps with your periods or pain during ovulation, you can spread castor oil over your lower abdomen and cover with a clean cloth before applying warmth.
3. Exercise for fertility, not vanity.
If you are used to exercising hard, you may need to cut back. Intense exercise more than four hours a week has been shown in studies to decrease fertility, so reduce to 75 to 80% during your workouts and try replacing one or two sessions with a gentle yoga or Pilates class. If you do not have an exercise routine, incorporate moderate daily exercise.
4. Find a TCM practitioner.
Websites like and can help you find a practitioner in your area. You can also ask for a referral from your doctor or friends, or search “fertility acupuncture" online. Ideally, find a practitioner who is experienced with fertility and women's health.
5. Get a baseline for you and your partner.
If you are under 35 and have been trying to conceive for more than a year, or if you're over 35 and have been trying to conceive for six months, it might be time to get some fertility testing for you and your partner. Identifying the problem area will allow your fertility doctor and your TCM practitioner to help you faster.