Acupuncture: The Wind Beneath IVF's Wings**
As director of one of Southern California’s top reproductive assistance facilities, I had the tremendously gratifying opportunity to work with countless amazing people. Seeking reproductive assistance and undergoing an IVF cycle is an incredibly vulnerable, nerve-wracking, expensive time in a woman and/or a couple’s life. Emotions fly high and they’re often scared and feeling helpless; consequently, they seek constant validation and advice. There are three pieces of advice I give women hoping to get pregnant from an IVF cycle: 1) don’t drink alcohol (not a hard and fast rule, but women who do drink alcohol and don’t get pregnant can drive themselves crazy with regret), 2) cut back on strenuous exercise, and 3) start getting acupuncture.
Most women are prepared to give up their wine, even the most hardcore exercisers understand not overheating the body while trying to create a stable environment for an embryo, but there was a time that the acupuncture advisory was met with some skepticism. Those days are largely gone. Acupuncture is hailed as a cure-all for countless health challenges, and it’s really no surprise that its magic extends to boosting and improving the success rates of IVF cycles.
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ACUPUNCTURE
Acupuncture works by gently activating certain points on the body to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissues, allowing the body to increase blood flow and balance the body’s energy or “Qi”. The balance of this energy, otherwise known as homeostasis, helps the body heal itself in a number of ways related to countless issues.
BENEFITS OF IVF
· Acupuncture increases uterine blood flow. There is some debate about whether or not acupuncture adequately increases blood flow to ovaries, but the science is in when it comes to the uterus. Most studies agree that acupuncture performed the day of embryo transfer, or implantation, increases chances of a positive pregnancy test by nearly 50%. On a less scientific front, I can say that in my own experience, I cannot recall a client who took our acupuncture advice and did not get pregnant. Most had it performed the day of or the day just before. It’s also recommended that acupuncture be performed post-transfer as well to “calm” the uterus and help the body’s environment transform into one appropriate for implantation.
· Acupuncture promotes relaxation. An ongoing joke I had with my clients was that since they were about to be parents, they should take the last opportunity to get really good sleep. As most who’ve undergone acupuncture will share, there’s no sleep like acupuncture sleep and the relaxation is unparalleled. If the practice did absolutely nothing else to aid in getting pregnant, this factor would still be invaluable. Stress hormones are widely acknowledged to inhibit fertility, and I’m always sure to remind tightly-wound prospective new parents that their chances of having a child increase exponentially when they lower their stress levels.
· Acupuncture creates a positive bodily environment. A key precept of acupuncture is balance, and this becomes extremely important in preparing the body to receive and house an embryo. IVF patients miss out on the month plus of bodily preparation that a natural conception experiences, their bodies are not where a woman in the embryo implantation stage of her natural conception would be. Ensuring that the body is balanced and all is in harmony is extremely helpful to the cause of convincing the body to accept and integrate an embryo that is in many ways new to the reproductive system. Having acupuncture post-transfer is also a great idea for this reason.
MORE IS MORE
When it comes to acupuncture during your IVF journey, more is really more. The hard and fast rule is to be certain to have it on the day of your transfer, both before and after the procedure. If you have acupuncture performed no other times, these are crucial.
However, weekly acupuncture during your follicle stimulate and egg retrieval are also recommended for the overall ovarian health as well as the body’s climate. Acupuncture is believed to work especially well in conjunction with egg-producing drugs like Clomid or Letrozole. Post-transfer acupuncture, along with weekly appointments during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are also incredible complements to the process of making it through the occasionally tumultuous first trimester.
Acupuncture is not a surefire guarantee of success in IVF, but it is an undeniable complement. I will continue to recommend it to clients and friends alike as not a luxury, but as a necessity in any IVF undertaking. Ultimately, the benefits of acupuncture throughout the entire cycle is even more valuable to not only your chances of success, but your peace of mind.
**written by guest blogger Ashleigh M. Brown, former director of The Donor Egg Bank in Santa Monica, CA