IVF stands for in vitro fertilization, meaning that the egg is fertilized by the sperm outside of the womb. (“Vitro” means glass, referring to the lab equipment where the fertilization takes place.) Typically, IVF is done in situations where a woman is unable to get pregnant through intercourse alone. This may be due to her age, previous health issues that have affected her fertility, or issues with a male partner’s sperm. IVF may also be used in cases where a woman wants a child but does not have a male partner.
Acupuncture can help you prepare for the IVF procedure in many ways.
1. Improve ovarian function: Part of the IVF process involves stimulating the ovaries to produce more follicles and higher quality eggs, since healthy eggs are the basis for a successful pregnancy. Acupuncture can help increase the number of eggs and the quality of those eggs in the months leading up to the IVF procedures.
2. Lower FSH levels: A high FSH (follicular stimulating hormone) level suggests that the ovaries are not functioning as well as they should be. Acupuncture helps to regulate hormone levels and improve ovarian function, which in turn lowers FSH levels. This is important because many IVF clinics will use the FSH level to help decide whether or not to go ahead with IVF procedures
3. Reduce stress: Some people (both men and women) find that going through IVF is stressful. Acupuncture is a good way to calm the body, reduce discomfort, and alleviate stress while preparing for IVF.
4. Improve the immune system: A healthy person may get pregnant more easily, so it’s helpful to have your body in top form before you start IVF. Acupuncture can help keep you healthy and make sure that your body is functioning well.
5. Improve the quantity and quality of semen: Fertility treatment often seems to focus much more on the women, but their only half the equation. Acupuncture can be very helpful to men as well, especially in cases where a male partner has low sperm count, low motility (movement) of sperm, or sperm that are not formed correctly (poor morphology). Even just a couple of months of acupuncture can help create better sperm before IVF even starts.
The next posts describe the IVF procedure more in depth and discusses ways that acupuncture can help you once you have already started IVF.
Acupuncture is helpful at each stage of the IVF cycle.
Acupuncture can enhance fertility and optimize the chances of a successful IVF cycle.
Acupuncture helps IVF by…
1. Regulate the cycle: Your fertility doctor will start you on hormones to regulate your cycle. During this time, acupuncture can be used to regulate qi (energy) throughout your body, improve blood circulation, and calm your whole nervous system. Acupuncture can be very effective in regulating the cycle, too.
2. Stimulate the ovaries: Around Day 2 of your period, you will start hormone treatments to stimulate the ovaries and make more follicles. Acupuncture can help at this stage by assisting you in producing more follicles. Acupuncture can also help thicken the lining of the uterus, which allows the transferred embryos to attach more easily to your uterus.
3. Reduce side effects of IVF medications: Some women experience side effects from the medications that are used during IVF. These side effects might include things like abdominal bloating, abdominal or uterine cramping, mood swings, or mild depression. Acupuncture may help with many of these types of problems.
4. Retrieval of eggs: Your doctor will remove your mature eggs for fertilization in the lab. Retrieval is a surgical procedure which sometimes causes discomfort for women. Acupuncture can be useful at this stage to prevent or stop uterine cramping, reduce irritation or inflammation from the surgery, and address any side effects from the hormones and medication.
5. Transfer of embryos: The eggs and sperm are combined in a lab and watched carefully for three or five days. The doctor will select the fertilized eggs that look most promising and transfer them back to the uterus.
Acupuncturists and fertility clinics often recommend acupuncture on the day of IVF transfer. There is quite a bit of research indicating that acupuncture improves the chances of a successful transfer and pregnancy.
On the transfer day, your acupuncturist will meet with you two times – immediately before and immediately after the transfer happens at your doctor’s office. In my practice, the acupuncture / transfer schedule looks something like this:
You are scheduled for an appointment with the fertility doctor for the transfer.
We meet at my acupuncture office about 90 minutes before transfer is scheduled to occur.
I choose acupuncture points based on successful research about acupuncture and IVF. This is the “pre-transfer” treatment, and you can rest for about 30 minutes with needles inserted.
The needles are removed, and you make your way to the doctor’s office, where fertilized embryos are transferred to your uterus.
After being cleared to leave the doctor’s office, you call me to say that you’re on your way back to my office for the “post-transfer” treatment.
The needles for the “post-transfer” treatment are inserted, and you are left to relax for about 30 minutes.
Go home to rest!
What are these “pre-transfer” and “post-transfer” treatments for?
The pre-transfer acupuncture treatment is used to help dilate the cervix, which makes it easier for the embryos to be inserted into the uterus. It also helps improve circulation of blood to the uterus, thus creating a thicker uterine lining. There are points to calm your whole nervous system, as well as the uterus itself. The uterus should be calmed to decrease cramping and uterine contractions.
The post-transfer acupuncture treatment continues these ideas – it circulates blood to the uterus and nourishes the newly transferred embryo so that it can grow, and helps to prevent contractions of the uterus.
The fertility doctor will ask you to return for a pregnancy test about ten days after the transfer. Hopefully, the IVF has been successful and you have a positive pregnancy test!