Acupuncture is becoming an increasingly common alternative or complementary treatment to traditional Western reproductive medicine. In fact, many fertility clinics offer acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine within the clinic or refer patients to an acupuncturist. So how do you know if acupuncture is right for you in your path to achieve pregnancy? Keep reading to learn more about the practice, and to see if it’s something you might want to consider.
What Exactly Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese practice of medicine in which tiny needles are inserted strategically into the skin. There is a wide range of types and sizes of needles, points of insertion and styles of acupuncture practice. In the United States, traditional acupuncture is the most commonly-practiced style of acupuncture
How Can Acupuncture Help Infertility?
- Stress Reduction – There’s no question about it: trying to get pregnant is inherently stressful! Unfortunately, stress can have a negative impact on conception; research shows that higher levels of stress are clearly associated with a longer time-to-pregnancy and an increased risk of infertility.2 Acupuncture is considered by many fertility specialists to be a complementary tool in improving relaxation and reducing stress, which is important for women who are trying to conceive.
- Improvement of Blood Flow and Organ Function – Acupuncture has been shown to improve the volume of blood flow and the quality of that blood to reproductive organs. This is particularly true if you find a good acupuncturist who is trained and knowledgeable about the multiple facets of reproductive issues or infertility.3
- Management of Symptoms and Side Effects – Acupuncture has been shown to help manage the difficult symptoms associated with conditions that impact the reproductive organs, like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, and endometriosis. Additionally, many have found relief for side effects like bloating or nausea that can often come with certain fertility medications. Your male partner or spouse might also find some improvement in sperm count or quality using acupuncture.1
Where Do I Find an Acupuncturist Trained in Treating Fertility Issues?
If your clinic does not already have an acupuncturist with whom it works closely, you can find one who
specializes in fertility issues and is certified with the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (http://www.aborm.org/). He or she should also be registered with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) and/or the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA).
How Do I Get Acupuncture Treatment Started? What Will It Be Like?
Once you’ve found a certified and registered acupuncturist, you can expect that the first appointment will be much like any other first appointment with a fertility specialist. He or she will ask you a lot of questions about your health history, lifestyle (diet, stress levels, exercise, sleep habits) and your fertility concerns. There will likely also be an exam, including feeling your pulse and looking at your tongue. The actual acupuncture (insertion of the needles) might also happen at this first appointment and can take about 30 minutes to an hour. Most patients report little to no pain, although you might feel some dull ache, pinch or slight shock sensation.1
Is Acupuncture Expensive? Is it Covered by My Insurance?
Many insurance plans are now offering coverage for alternative or complementary treatments like acupuncture. Look over your policy to get familiar with the coverage you have. When you call to make your first appointment, be sure to talk with the scheduler about your individual insurance plan and the coverage it offers. If your plan does not cover alternative care, speak with the staff providing the acupuncture about fee schedules and payment plans before you begin treatment. Financial surprises will not help reduce your stress!
While many people are wary of alternative or complementary care like acupuncture, it’s important to know that many reputable and ethical fertility-care providers have come a long way in their understanding of its benefits. Finding an infertility treatment plan that is tailored for your needs and your comfort with non-traditional care is very important. Your reproductive specialist can be a great resource for what options are available and what can be truly beneficial in helping you get pregnant. Speak with him or her about your questions and concerns about acupuncture, so that you can come up with a treatment plan together.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “Acupuncture and Infertility Fact Sheet” Updated 2015. Available at: http://www.reproductivefacts.org/globalassets/rf/news-and-publications/bookletsfact-sheets/english-fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/Acupuncture_and_infertility_treatment.pdf. Accessed October 11, 2017.
- D. Lynch, et al; Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study—the LIFE study, Human Reproduction, Volume 29, Issue 5, 1 May 2014, Pages 1067–1075. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/29/5/1067/2913997/Preconception-stress-increases-the-risk-of. Accessed October 11, 2017.
- Complementary Care for Fertility Treatment: Nutrition, Acupuncture, and Counseling [Podcast interview with Mark LeWinter]. (2012, May 23). Available at: https://creatingafamily.org/infertility-category/complimentary-care-for-fertility-treatment-nutrition-acupuncture-and-counseling/. Accessed October 11, 2017.