When I started OutOfHours blog I wanted to share my story of recurrent miscarriage and also help others in a similar situation if I could. So, with this in mind I have decided to write a series of blog posts about a few of the things that I did to help me deal with my miscarriages and how they may also help anyone going through recurrent pregnancy loss.
Please note – this blog post is based on my opinion and personal experience.
I cannot completely remember how I stumbled across acupuncture for fertility. I think I had been reading a lot of things online and had heard a couple of friends suggest it.
My sister’s good friend is an acupuncturist and so when she heard our miscarriage story she offered to have a chat with me about the role of acupuncture. I called her and told her our story… Instead of the usual sympathy that I had heard over the years, she gave me a different narrative, and it was one I needed to hear. ‘Yes I’ve seen women like you and have helped them before’. That was it – exactly what I needed to hear! Finally someone was willing to stick their neck out and give me hope.
No doctor was willing to give me this hope (and I fully understand the reasons for this, at this time my local recurrent miscarriage clinic was unable to find a cause for our recurrent losses) but my sister’s friend, armed with her expertise, felt acupuncture could help. She gave me advice on who I should look for locally and I was lucky to find a fertility specialist acupuncturist locally – just 5 minutes away! I booked in and had an initial assessment, followed by regular appointments with my acupuncturist… I was invigorated once again, ready to tread the choppy waters of trying to conceive for the 5th time. Thankfully, along with some additional medical treatment*, this was to be the pregnancy which would give us our much loved son, Baby I.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a type of traditional medicine that has been used for thousands of years in China and other areas in the East. Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles at specific points in the body and helps to to promote well being and treat illness. The traditional acupuncture belief is that energy ( called Qi) flows freely through channels in the body called meridians. If energy does not flow freely this can cause illness. However, acupuncture can help to restore the flow of energy.
A more Western belief is that the insertion of needles stimulate nerves under the skin leading to the release of pain-relieving endorphins. Over the past decade or so its use has increased in the UK and currently has been integrated into some aspects of NHS care, particularly in managing painful conditions. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) even recommend that acupuncture can be used to treat migraine/chronic tension-type headaches (however it is no longer recommended for low back pain as evidence showed it was no better than ‘sham’ treatment¹) and you can still find practitioners in the UK using acupuncture for other types of pain such as neck pain, dental pain, joint pain and postoperative pain²
How can it be used in fertility?
According to The British Acupuncture Council acupuncture can have many applications in the treatment of fertility problems. What I will say (and they also admit) is that evidence limited and only few trials have been done to try prove these associations. Studies have looked at make and female factors.
Female Fertility 3:
There are three potential mechanisms that have been proposed:
- Firstly, acupuncture may have a role in regulating fertility hormones as the release of endorphins may in turn encourage the release of key hormones such as FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), oestrogen and progesterone (Ng 2008, Huang 2008, Lim 2010, Stener-Victorin 2010).
- Secondly some studies have shown that acupuncture can increase blood flow by stimulating the body’s sympathetic nervous system. This may increase blood supply to organs such as the ovaries and uterus (Stener-Victorin 1996, 2006, Lim 2010 Huang 2008) improving the development of follicles and the endometrium respectively.
- Lastly, studies have found acupuncture can counteract the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) by reducing cyst formation, improving ovulation and regulating the menstrual cycle (Stener-Victorin 2000, 2008, 2009, Zhang 2009).
Male Fertility 4:
Acupuncture may help by reducing scrotal temperature, improving micro-circulation, reducing inflammation and improving sperm maturation.
IVF Clinics 5:
You will also see acupuncture used alongside IVF in many clinics as it is believed that it may help leading up to embryo transfer and immediately afterwards (I assume this is due to the reasons previously outlined for female fertility).
My Personal Experience
As I mentioned earlier, it is very, very difficult (one might say impossible) to prove that acupuncture reduces the chance of miscarriage, or increases the rate conception as we all know there are many factors involved in the process of conception, implantation and then normal development of a baby. Add to all of these known factors there are also multitude of unknown factors and a huge element of magic/luck…
What I will say is that acupuncture changed my mindset significantly. I had allocated self care time and I felt like I was actively doing something, trying to help my mind and body get in the best possible shape to carry a pregnancy successfully. I also noted that my (very regular menstrual) cycle duration changed. Coincidence? Maybe… I often wonder whether there was a huge placebo effect with acupuncture? Perhaps. But this would be difficult to prove… Was the placebo effect is a bad thing? In my situation I would say it was absolutely a positive and if we should embark on another pregnancy journey in the future I would definitely try it again.
What are your thoughts? Ever tried acupuncture for fertility reasons or anything else? I would love to hear your experiences!
* I was referred to a National Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic (RMC) and had specific treatment there. I have chosen not to disclose the specific details of this treatment in my blog intentionally as do not want to encourage people to try treatment that has not been recommended by their own doctor. Instead I urge you to seek specialist RMC opinion
NICE. (2019). NICE publishes updated advice on treating low back pain. [online] Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/news/article/nice-publishes-updated-advice-on-treating-low-back-pain [Accessed 24 Feb. 2019].
nhs.uk. (2019). Acupuncture. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acupuncture [Accessed 24 Feb. 2019].
Acupuncture.org.uk. (2019). Female fertility. [online] Available at: https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/female-fertility.html [Accessed 24 Feb. 2019].
Acupuncture.org.uk. (2019). Male infertility. [online] Available at: https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/male-infertility.html [Accessed 24 Feb. 2019].
Zita West. (2019). Acupuncture For IVF | Zita West Fertility Clinic. [online] Available at: https://www.zitawest.com/ivf/acupuncture-for-ivf/ [Accessed 24 Feb. 2019]