No one would argue that trying to conceive is stress-free. In fact, one study of 200 couples who visited a fertility clinic found that half of the women and 15% of the men said that infertility was the most stressful experience of their lives.
In trying to find ways to ease the emotional and physical toll of being in the thick of fertility challenges while trying to get pregnant, many individuals and couples turn to acupuncture.
“Navigating infertility is a multifaceted challenge,” explains Jacqueline Fernando, MSW, LCSW, a therapist at Alma Therapy. “Throughout the fertility journey, there are many moments of grief and loss. Grief for the dream of a child, the desired conception story, or the romanticism of growing a family without invasive medication intervention… As a result, many fertility patients experience anxious feelings prior to any office visit and when these visits do not have an ideal outcome, many patients feel incredibly sad, tearful, heartbreak, disappointment and anger.”
Those patients also tend to feel alone, even though the CDC states that 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 women are impacted by miscarriages. Women in particular may feel especially signaled out since infertility has gained the reputation of being a “women’s health issue.”
But the ancient practice of acupuncture can help refocus energy to what can be controlled—and has benefits for both women and men when it comes to fertility.
How acupuncture can help those struggling with infertility
Acupuncture is an ancient practice based in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that dates back almost 3,000 years and involves the placing of very thin, small needles along the meridians of the body.
“Some like to say ‘the needles tell the brain to tell the body what to do,’” explains Brooke Taylor, LAc, owner of The Road in Austin, which specializes in acupuncture for fertility.
Acupuncturists can be board certified in fertility and are highly qualified to work in tandem with the Western approach and diagnosis, Taylor adds.
Some common questions that an acupuncturist may ask are:
- How long is your cycle?
- How many days do you typically bleed?
- What is the volume and color of your period?
- Are there clots?
- Do you have any PMS symptoms?
Through this deep dive, acupuncturists are then able to help form a plan that will best help your individual journey.
“Acupuncture has been shown to aid in relaxation, calming the body and helping to manage mental wellness,” explains Fernando. “Infertility treatment is overwhelming and out of your control; therefore, participating in activities that give you back some control is empowering and healing. Furthermore, utilizing a guided meditation app while on the acupuncture table is wonderful for practicing calming the anxious mind.”
Research has also shown that a consistent acupuncture practice can help increase the blood flow to the ovaries and improve overall egg quality.
“Acupuncture can enhance fertility when a patient receives treatment for about three months prior to conception,” adds Katya Mosely, Founder of Spirit Gate Wellness in Los Angeles, which also specializes in maternal acupuncture. “Especially when coupled with herbal medicine, it can remove blockages in the fallopian tubes, increase endometrial lining, regulate the thyroid and sex hormones, and calm the spirit to help the season of conception remain pleasurable.”
And while most of the conversation around fertility issues veer toward women, it is true that men struggle as well and also can benefit from acupuncture.
“In men, acupuncture and lifestyle changes can completely change sperm quality and quantity within about three months,” adds Mosely.
Common misconceptions around acupuncture
Oftentimes, acupuncture is turned to as a last resort in assisted fertility treatments, like IUI or IVF, but it’s true that acupuncture can benefit those who are conceiving naturally as well, adds Mosely.
Those navigating a TTC journey can feel like every moment is high pressure and needs to yield immediate results. Taylor encourages those practicing acupuncture to know that just because you don’t feel an immediate impact after your first treatment doesn’t mean it won’t work.
“Most of our health issues didn’t happen overnight, so our body needs time to move in the right direction,” explains Taylor.
And like a therapist, if your first acupuncturist proves to not be a good fit, it’s OK to search for one who best supports your personal preferences and journey.
What to expect from your first acupuncture session
Both Taylor and Mosely share that you should not be surprised when during your first session your acupuncturist asks questions about everything from your sleep to your eating habits. The goal of your first session especially is for your acupuncturist to gain a deeper understanding of your medical, emotional, hormonal and nutritional history.
How often and how long you should go to an acupuncturist will also begin to become more clear after that first session. Although, it is safe for you to practice acupuncture throughout your entire pregnancy. Acupuncture might even help with labor prep.
On a mental health level, it also offers tools that can help one navigate the ebbs and flows of an infertility journey.
“Acupuncture, meditation and meditative activities promote practicing the skill of relaxation and calming the body,” explains Fernando. “Becoming well-versed in calming the heartbeat and the breath can be quite challenging for some and require regular practice in order to become efficient and proficient. It is a muscle that can benefit from regular practice, so when it is game day, retrieval or transfer day, the office visits when it really counts, individuals have the tools and the skills to calm themselves and self-soothe.”
Jacqueline Fernando, MSW, LCSW, is a therapist at Alma Therapy, and specializes in infertility and reproductive loss counseling.
Katya Mosely is the founder of Spirit Gate Wellness in Los Angeles, and specializes in maternal acupuncture.
Brooke Taylor, LAc, is owner of The Road in Austin, and specializes in acupuncture for those trying to conceive.