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.
What is acupuncture?
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.
It’s needles though, right? Should I be concerned?
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.
What can I expect at my first appointment?
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.
So it really is a 360 degree approach, then?
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.
And there’s the added benefit of talk therapy, too?
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.
How many sessions will I need?
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.
I’ve heard acupuncture can be beneficial pre- and post- embryo transfer - is this true?
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.
What other research is out there to show it works?
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).
How do I get started?
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.