By Mary Vincent, L.Ac.
Infertility is the inability to conceive a child or to carry a pregnancy to full term. The time frame when a couple is considered infertile varies based on where you live in the world. In general, and according to the World Health Organization, a couple is assumed to be infertile if, after two years of regular, contraceptive-free intercourse, the woman has not become pregnant. Primary infertility refers to a couple who has never been able to have a child, while secondary infertility refers to a couple who has not been able to conceive following a prior pregnancy. Subfertility is a term that often overlaps with secondary infertility, meaning the couple does have a chance at conceiving, but the odds are much lower than average (often due to things such as low sperm count, ovarian or uterine issues, hormonal imbalances, etc.).
Here in the US, the guidelines in defining when a couple is considered infertile takes into account the option for specialized fertility treatments that may increase their odds at conceiving. In the US a couple is considered infertile if:
The woman is under 35 and the couple has not conceived after 12 months of regular intercourse without contraceptives
The woman is over 35 and the couple has not conceived after 6 months of regular intercourse without contraceptives
We see many people at BCA for infertility. A great number of these people come on the referral of their OB/GYN or fertility specialist. Some are using acupuncture as their only source of treatment, and some are combining with western fertility treatments. We are happy to support you in whatever methods you are choosing. Acupuncture has been shown to be successful at complementing western treatments, and at upping the odds for conception. In a 2002 study published in Fertility and Sterility, researchers found that of 160 women receiving IVF, those that had acupuncture treatments for 25 minutes before and after the transfer of the fertilized egg to the uterus had a significantly higher chance of conceiving. Of the 80 women who received acupuncture and IVF, 34 conceived. Of the 80 who received IVF alone, 21 became pregnant.
Acupuncture is also able to help stimulate ovarian function in women who are not properly ovulating. Some woman we see choose to do acupuncture alone to stimulate and/or improve ovarian function while some choose to do acupuncture in addition to taking Clomid (a drug that stimulate the ovaries). Determining which is the best choice for you will depend on a variety of factors including age, regularity of menstrual cycles, and severity in ovulation issues. In addition, acupuncture is very effective in regulating the menstrual cycle in general (by helping to regulate hormonal imbalances), making it easier to predict the timing of ovulation in order to improve the odds of conceiving more quickly.
Another study conducted in 2005 and published in Fertility and Sterility suggested that acupuncture also has a positive effect on a man’s sperm quality and quantity. The study of 40 men concluded that in those that received acupuncture, there were fewer morphology problems (problems with the shape of the sperm) and also a statistically relevant increase in the overall sperm count. Patients in the study received acupuncture twice a week for 5 weeks.
Your treatment plan for fertility support at BCA will be based on your specific fertility issues, and the number of treatments needed will be tailored to your particular situation. For example, if issue includes irregular menstrual cycles we would suggest 2 times a week for the first two months to start. If the issue is ovulation we would suggest 2 times a week plus a small cluster of treatments when ovulation should be occurring. If you are receiving an IUI or IVF we would like to see you weekly and then right before and right after your procedure. In many cases, herbs will be recommended to be included in your regimen.
Difficulty conceiving can be extremely stressful on couples. Regardless of the issues surrounding your infertility, one of the best and simplest things acupuncture can provide is the time to relax and lower your stress levels. Even if you are not using acupuncture to assist in your fertility issues, we would encourage you to pop in from time to time to help manage what can often become an overwhelmingly stressful situation.
Paulus WE, Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, Sterzik K. “Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy.” Fertility and Sterility. April 2002; 77(4):721-4.
Pei J, Strehler E, Noss U, Abt M, Piomboni P, Baccetti B Sterzik K. “Quantative evaluation of spermatozoa untrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopatic male infertility.” Fertility and Sterility. July 2005; 84(1): 141-7.