Acupuncture is the most popular complementary therapy that patients use to support assisted reproductive techniques, especially IVF or ICSI cycles. A large number of patients choose acupuncture to increase their chances of success and benefit from the relaxation effect of the treatment during what often proves to be a difficult and challenging journey, both physically and emotionally.
A number of studies curried out in a different countries all point towards the same direction: Acupuncture can improve chances of successful implantation and therefore increase the success rates of both IVF and ICSI cycles. These studies have become so popular that many patients contact me to seek treatment on the day of embryo transfer. However, clinical experience and recent studies suggest that patients benefit more from the effect of acupuncture when treatment commences before the stimulation phase.
The frequency and regularity of treatment is tailored to the individual. Here is a general guide on how acupuncture can help at different times of your IVF cycle
Before embarking on IVF
Acupuncture can regulate a possibly irregular menstrual cycle and optimize ovarian function. When ovarian function improves then patients are more likely to respond better to ovarian stimulation with FSH preparations. In addition to that, Chinese medicine can be used in general to treat any underlying issues or deficiencies and improve patient’s general health and well being. What patients often find helpful is to benefit from the expertise of a practitioner who has years of experience with a number of different fertility clinics. I can help you make an informed choice when choosing a fertility clinic, familiarise yourself with the process and different stages of an IVF cycle so that know what to expect and prepare for it physically, mentally and emotionally. The whole experience of IVF can then become easier and far less overwhelming.
When patients follow a long IVF protocol they take down regulating medication to suppress the ovaries and “shut down” their natural cycle so that egg maturation is better controlled during treatment. Due to low oestrogen levels during down regulation patients often experience symptoms such as headaches, irritability, hot flushes or night sweats. Acupuncture can be effective in alleviating those symptoms. When patients get a menstrual bleed towards the end of down regulation acupuncture is used to ensure that the uterine lining will shed completely. This allows for a good quality lining to form during the stimulation phase.
During the stimulation phase treatment is focused on stimulating the ovaries in order to encourage follicular growth and encouraging better blood flow to the womb to thicken up the uterine lining.
Acupuncture after egg collection is mostly used to reduce the inflammation and symptoms of bloating or water retention that patients experience during this time, accelerate the healing process after the procedure and calm the mind.
In terms of research supporting the efficacy of acupuncture this is the most important time to have a treatment. I see patients twice on the day of the transfer. The pre-transfer treatment is focused on increasing the receptivity of the uterine lining, therefore improving the communication between the embryo and the environment where it’s going to be transferred. The post-transfer treatment aims to relax the muscle of the womb in case there are any small contractions and help the embryo to hatch. Both treatments are just as important and together they can significantly improve chances of successful implantation.
Post embryo transfer
Acupuncture at this time is mostly used to ease anxiety and calm the mind. The way we work during this time is based on the assumption that treatment has been successful. I avoid using points on the lower abdomen or points that move the blood too strongly as they are contraindicated in early pregnancy.