Many couples look to complementary therapies during their fertility journey and acupuncture is certainly one of the most commonly used. In this article, fertility acupuncturist Ian Stones of Hove Fertility + Wellness explains a little more about what’s in it for you and why acupuncture is such a popular choice.
Acupuncture is a system of medicine that is based on ancient Chinese philosophies and the concept of Yin, Yang and Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). It’s rooted in the concept of balance and living by the natural cycles around us. According to Chinese medicine, ill health is a result of imbalances and treatment is aimed at restoring balance and therefore good health to the body.
However, there is so much more to acupuncture than the treatment itself and it’s often the case that people don’t realise this until they’ve started treatment.
A lot of people are cautious about trying acupuncture due to the fact it involves needles. However the vast majority of clients are surprised to find that the whole experience is actually very relaxing and not at all painful. Acupuncture needles are incredibly fine and bear no resemblance to any needles used for injections or blood tests so generally speaking treatment is completely painless.
An acupuncturist will always spend time going through a case history with you. This will involve taking a detailed history of your health, emotional well-being and all aspects of you as a person. It’s important for the acupuncturist to get a good understanding of what’s going on for you during this session. From this the practitioner can then formulate a treatment plan and will choose acupuncture points and lifestyle advice based on this plan.
A practitioner will also ask further questions around the challenges you’re facing, such as: How is trying to conceive affecting you physically and emotionally? What impact is this having on your work, your relationship and your friendships? What are you doing around your diet, managing your stress, exercise?…and so much more. It really is a holistic approach.
By the time most couples turn up to try something like acupuncture they’ve often exhausted all other avenues so a thorough case history will allow a practitioner to really get to know you and what it is you want to achieve.
From there it’s about setting goals about what you want to change in your life and health and how that will help you on your journey and in your overall health. Naturally during fertility-focused treatment having a baby is the obvious outcome, however there are often many other issues that need resolving alongside the stress of trying to conceive. What acupuncture can offer is support and practical life and health tips to help you along what can be a challenging journey.
Acupuncture treatment will always be focused on you as a whole and will work to keep your body in balance. However there is also an educational element to treatment as well. Acupuncture is part of Chinese medicine: yes it’s a treatment that is given to you but it’s also about embracing some of the philosophy of the medicine. It’s about understanding your body in relation to the food you eat, the exercise you do, how you manage stress and emotions and how you live your life generally.
An acupuncturist will take the time to explain to you how your body works and how you can look after it in a more nurturing way. Chinese medicine is a way of life, not just an intervention. Western medicine is often based on the idea of taking an issue away i.e painkillers. Chinese medicine is about learning to live a balanced and healthy life so that you don’t get ill. Through personalised advice an acupuncturist will help you understand what changes you need to make in your life that will help you feel healthier, stronger and more able to cope with the ups and downs of day to day life.
Throughout treatment you and your practitioner build a very close relationship and regular treatment has many benefits. But having somewhere to talk openly, honestly and without judgement is a huge part of the whole dynamic of treatment. Acupuncture gives you the opportunity to check in with someone on a regular basis whilst then getting the chance to take positive steps around all areas of your health. Many clients are surprised as to how much is covered by an acupuncturist and how incredibly beneficial it can be.
This varies hugely and very much depends on where you are in your fertility journey and your overall health. Certainly acupuncture is far more beneficial as a longer term treatment plan as it takes time for its effects to build up and you need to allow time for dietary and lifestyle changes to have an impact. It’s certainly worth considering seeing an acupuncturist regularly for a couple of months prior to any IVF treatment and it can be a great support during longer fertility journeys. Many clients then continue to see their practitioner on a less frequent basis but as part of their general health management.
There was quite a major piece of research carried out many years ago where women were given acupuncture before and after embryo transfer and the results showed that those who had acupuncture had an increased chance of success.
This was great news, however it’s important to understand how different traditional acupuncture is compared to the way western medicine conducts medical trials. In Chinese medicine everyone is seen as an individual and there are so many elements that influence a person’s health and fertility. Therefore treatment is always tailored to the individual and you may find that two people with the same “western” diagnosis may have a completely different acupuncture treatment. The pre and post embryo treatment in this piece of research involved all patients receiving exactly the same treatment 20 minutes before and after transfer so it was very formulaic. Each acupuncturist will have their own unique way of working with fertility clients and many do recommend pre and post transfer treatment. However for almost all practitioners that treatment is only a small part of what they do and regular ongoing sessions throughout your fertility treatment is the most important element.
There is a lot of research out there to show that acupuncture is effective. It has been shown that acupuncture is effective at reducing the effects of stress hormones, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing the hormone system.
You can learn more about some of the potential benefits acupuncture may deliver those suffering from female infertility in this research factsheet from the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC).
Finding the right acupuncturist is crucial and no two acupuncturists are the same. Each practitioner will bring their own experience, training and most importantly personality to the table. It’s important that you take time to find who’s right for you. The British Acupuncture Council are the lead professional body for Traditional Acupuncture in the UK and they hold a register on their website www.acupuncture.org.uk. It’s worth researching practitioners in your area and then calling them to have a chat. Many will offer a free chat which will enable you to suss them out and get a feel for who you’re most comfortable with. Getting the right practitioner will make a huge difference as they’ll be someone you can rely on, trust and share your journey with.Continue reading
Here Lyn Franklin, a reproductive reflexologist from AromaReflex - Reflexology for Natural Fertility, IVF & Pregnancy, shares her thoughts on the current Covid-19 crisis and helps us understand the ins and outs of reproductive reflexology - what is it, what are the benefits and how does treatment work.
We’re living in very unfamiliar times and it’s unclear how long it will continue. Our routines have gone out the window and we seem to be on overdrive with our screens - not only for work and home schooling, but for keeping in touch with friends and family as well. It’s hugely draining as our weekdays blur into the weekends, with seemingly no let up or time to refresh. It’s exhausting! So if you’re trying to conceive on top of all this, I know for many, it has felt like the end of the world.
One minute you were embarking on investigative tests or starting a long awaited IVF cycle and then…nothing… everything on hold. I know the uncertainty has been unbearable for some, with hopes and plans dashed in an instant…time seemingly ebbing away with no idea when things will change.
It was therefore very encouraging to hear the HFEA announce that from week commencing 11th May fertility clinics can apply to reopen. This is such welcome news, though realistically it could take a little while for things to get back on track – in the meantime the loss of control, stress and anxiety can be overwhelming and, if left unchecked, it has a knock on effect on everything.
If I may offer a slightly different perspective, there’s an opportunity here to take back some control of the things you can. To use this time to be kind and take care of yourself so you’re in the best possible health for when things eventually do get back to some form of normality. Whilst it’s tempting to sleep late, stay in our PJ’s, drink more coffee or alcohol and eat a load of comfort food - it’s really important to set a few ground rules and build in some structure.
Waking at a similar time, showering and getting dressed for the day. Pacing yourself with work, eating regular, nutritious meals and drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Reducing sugary snacks and cutting out alcohol and caffeine if you can or limit to just the odd cup or glass once or twice a week. Not forgetting to take your fertility boosting supplements as well!
Getting ‘me-time’ is a must as well as getting enough restorative sleep – sleep quantity and quality is not only vital for general well-being but also for the production of thriving eggs and sperm! Perhaps diffuse some relaxing essential oils or have a lovely candle-lit bath or read a book - whatever you fancy - the aim is to avoid your phone and laptop screen and allow your mind to really switch off and prepare for a good night’s rest.
Of course I swear by reflexology - reflexology is an ancient, non-intrusive complementary health therapy based on the theory that different points on the feet, lower leg, hands, face or ears correspond with different areas of the body. Reflexologists believe that working these points, usually on the feet, encourages the whole body to work more efficiently, aiding relaxation, improving mood and overall sense of well-being. We work holistically with clients, alongside standard healthcare, to promote better emotional and physical health.
So you could also try the simple hand reflexology techniques in this short video produced by the Association of Reflexologists for promoting sleep - also great for doing on another family member!
Just taking one day at a time and incorporating a few of these suggestions will make a huge amount of difference. If you’d like some support please get in touch.
I practise Reproductive Reflexology (ReproflexologyTM) - a specialist therapy pioneered and carefully developed by Barbara Scott over 20 years - Barbara is Chair of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists (ARR).
Reproflexology uses reflexology for the study and treatment of male and female reproductive and fertility conditions. This form of reflexology can be used as a stand-alone treatment to support natural fertility or can be used alongside all forms of assisted conception treatment including Clomid, IUI, IVF, ICSI and IMSI. It can also be used to support individuals and couples using surrogacy or donors in IVF cycles. Members of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists (MARR) are specially trained, using structured and prescriptive treatment plans, to support couples in preparation for and through all phases of their assisted conception treatment.
Whether trying naturally or planning an assisted cycle it is a good idea to start preparing at least three months in advance - with specific changes in lifestyle and diet in conjunction with reproflexology it is possible to significantly reduce stress, improve hormone levels and improve the quality of the eggs and sperm being produced.
Treatment plans are fully tailored and will be discussed at the initial consultation. They will vary according to whether the individual or couple is trying to boost their chances of conceiving naturally or whether they require support whilst undertaking assisted fertility treatment. We are also able to assist surrogates and donors, where appropriate, in the run up to and during a cycle of treatment.
Ideally we like to see both parties at the initial consultation. It’s really important to engage men in the process from the start as it gives an opportunity to explain that male reproductive health is just as important as the female’s when it comes to making babies. There can be many complex causal factors involved for male and female fertility however, we understand that fertility issues are attributable proportionally: a third female, a third male and a third joint. So we’re missing a huge part of the picture if we don’t look at male fertility also.
We send a Pre-Conceptual Questionnaire to be completed and returned in advance of the first appointment - this gives a brief history of the fertility journey so far - upon which to build at the initial consultation - we also ask to see the results of any blood hormone tests and scans including a recent semen analysis.
The initial consultation involves a lot of information gathering and picture building - aside from age, height and weight, we want to understand about general lifestyle - diet, alcohol and caffeine consumption, smoking and drug use, any medication, type of work and number of hours worked, sleep quality and quantity, exercise routines and perceived stress levels - all these have a huge impact on reproductive health. We ask a lot of questions about the menstrual cycle and any underlying conditions. Similarly we ask about any underlying male conditions and look in detail at the semen analysis test results. In some circumstances, where there is a history of early recurrent miscarriage or repeated non implantation in IVF treatment, we will refer the male partner for a Sperm DNA fragmentation test, which tests for levels of Sperm DNA damage.
Once we have the full picture we can develop a treatment plan for moving one or both partners forward. We usually recommend working together over a three to four month period, in conjunction with lifestyle and dietary improvements, as we know this is how long it takes for the eggs and sperm to develop and mature. We use structured and prescriptive treatment plans for both men and women.
We aim to regulate the menstrual cycle and ensure that each phase is functioning at its best and treat any underlying conditions. We recommend using basal body temperature charting as this enables us to really see what is happening at each weekly phase of the menstrual cycle and to understand what needs addressing – it is also a wonderful tool for measuring progress as the treatment continues over the coming weeks and months. Check out our beginner's guide to fertility charting here.
We also aim to help underlying male conditions and improve semen parameters. We ask that couples repeat blood hormone tests and semen analysis after Reproflexology treatment in order to measure improvements and the efficacy of our treatment. Sometimes it can be as simple as regulating a cycle, understanding when ovulation occurs and timing things better!
Trying to conceive, in itself, can be hugely stressful and we know that cumulative stress can negatively impact reproductive hormones and therefore the ability to get pregnant. We support clients emotionally and also use techniques to help manage stress levels.
In my practice I choose to incorporate traditional reflexology into all my reproflexology treatments as I like to work holistically on all the body systems - plus it allows for a longer session where clients can really switch off if they wish. Reflexology is wonderfully calming and relaxing and clients often report sleeping well, feeling better in themselves and more positive after treatment.
We aim to help couples to conceive naturally however sadly this is not always possible. We normally use reproflexology to encourage the body to work as effectively and efficiently as it can, however, when we are working alongside an assisted cycle we work very differently. We use structured and prescriptive treatment plans to mirror and support each phase of the drug treatment protocol that is being undertaken - it is therefore vital that we have a copy of the treatment protocol being used.
We also aim to help minimize the side effects of the drugs being taken during the down regulation and stimulation phases. We need to be kept up to date on the results of all blood tests and scans to understand how things are progressing and how clients are responding to treatment - this enables us to tailor treatment accordingly to support the assisted cycle and to factor in additional treatments where necessary. In some instances we will show clients simple reflex points on the hands to work at home in between sessions to supplement and reinforce our work. We may also treat post egg harvest and before embryo or blastocyst transfer to help ease any discomfort from procedures
Some of our most valuable work is done during the two week wait when anxiety levels can be highest and it’s so important to keep stress levels to a minimum. If treatment is unsuccessful we have a treatment plan to assist the body to recover and then we proceed with the pre-conceptual care programme on a weekly basis to re-regulate the cycle and prepare for any further treatment.
We know going through an assisted cycle is extremely stressful - daily injections and meds, constant bloods and scans and the knowledge that treatment can be cancelled at any stage - leave alone the financial strains and the inevitable toll these factors can place on relationships. We are also here to offer emotional support and a listening ear - we really understand that fertility treatment can sometimes be a very lonely journey.
For more information about Reproductive Reflexology or to find a practitioner near you please visit www.reproductivereflexologists.org
NOTE - I wrote the article on Reproductive Reflexology (ReproflexologyTM) some time ago so it’s important to say that none of us ‘hands on’ practitioners are seeing clients face to face for the moment during the current Covid19 crisis. However many of us have adapted to work remotely, as there is so much we can still do to support new and existing individuals and couples as they prepare and plan for starting a family or fertility treatment. Plus there are some things you can be doing for yourself too!
For more information on Lyn and AromaReflex - Reflexology for Natural Fertility, IVF & Pregnancy, please check out Lyn's listing here.Continue reading
Acupuncture is a form of medicine, which originated in the East. Nowadays is it practised all around the world in Western societies to treat a variety of ailments. Acupuncture and fertility are a common combination and specifically, acupuncture can be used to treat and support patients undergoing IVF or ICSI. At Oxted Acupuncture, I regularly treat patients during IVF or ICSI and I focus on different aspects of each individual’s fertility journey. For me, it’s vital to approach each person as a unique patient and I tailor the treatment to their specific needs.
Acupuncture and fertility
Acupuncture is based on Meridian Theory, which determines areas of the body that may be blocked, undernourished or imbalanced. Some of these meridians flow directly through the pelvic basin and therefore, an imbalance can potentially affect fertility. This may be due to reduced blood flow to the uterus, either caused by lack of nourishment or too much tension causing ‘Stasis’. Temperature imbalance can also be affected and ‘Cold uterus’ is a cause of fertility issues in Chinese Medicine.
Protocol Cycles, acupuncture and fertility
If you are undergoing a long protocol cycle, you will ‘Down Reg.’ This means your body will enter temporary menopause using drugs such as Buserelin or Synarel. Depending on your underlying pathology, you may feel fine or you may be one of the number of women who suffer from night sweats, mood swings and a vicious thirst. Acupuncture may help to alleviate some of these symptoms, the same way it would for women undergoing natural menopause.
The ovarian stimulation phase
Next comes the ovarian stimulation phase when drugs such as Gonal F or Menopur are used to stimulate follicle recruitment. Science has shown that when oxygenated blood flows freely to the pelvic basin, the whole area benefits including the ovaries. If you have a poor response to these drugs and your follicles are struggling, studies show that acupuncture can increase the blood supply to the ovaries and improve IVF outcomes.
The Paulus Protocol
When it comes to egg transfer, the optimal thickness of the uterine lining for healthy implantation is between 9-15mm. Acupuncture may contribute to a thicker, more blood-rich lining which in turn may help implantation of the embryo. One particular study identified the ‘Paulus protocol’, a selection of acupuncture points to be used in the 24 hour window before egg transfer and again within 24 hours after the transfer. This protocol significantly increased pregnancy rates when undertaken within the time frames around egg transfer. Therefore, many fertility acupuncturists recommend and use this protocol regularly as part of their approach to acupuncture and fertility.
My approach to IVF and ICSI patients
Even though each patient will be different, I approach my patients with some key principles to ensure they get the best out of acupuncture treatment. I focus on counteracting any adverse effects of IVF drugs and treating each patient according to their diagnosis and rectifying their underlying pathology. It is also important to support all patients emotionally.
Alongside the scientifically proven benefits to having acupuncture alongside your IVF or ICSI is the added benefit of relaxation. Patients lay down during acupuncture and hopefully, during the session, they can relax their body and mind. Many patients like to listen to relaxing music or a guided meditation which will help to lower cortisol levels and de-stress. If a patient can remain in a relaxed and calm state this is a positive aspect of acupuncture which can be beneficial during fertility treatment.
Acupuncture is frequently used for fertility and during IVF or ICSI treatments. It can be used to treat the symptoms of down-regulation and may help increase the blood supply to the ovaries. It may also aid the thickening of the uterine lining and promote relaxation and lower cortisol levels. Acupuncture can increase the success of fertility treatments and is something to consider if you are embarking on IVF or ICSI.Continue reading