Tracey can offer plenty of advice to improve your fertility chances before going down the IVF route. Acupuncture has a good track record at improving fertility status.
For many couples the biological clock is ticking, they have been trying unsuccessfully for year or so, and so assisted conception is becoming a consideration. For others, challenges to natural conception have been identified: hormonal imbalances, blocked fallopian tubes, poor sperm quality and so on. Assisted conception has been advised as the best option. If you are undecided though and would like to try naturally before going down the assisted conception route, Tracey is happy to work with you. Depending on your health and lifestyle, allow up to 6 months. The egg and sperm take about three months to develop and nutrition changes require a similar time to fully take effect. It is useful to get some basic fertility tests done if you have been trying unsuccessfully for a while. See your GP first. These test results then can be included in your initial consultation with Tracey. A comprehensive questionnaire will assess you and your partner’s fertility status, potential areas of weakness, lifestyle and diet.
Research shows acupuncture can improve your IVF chances of success. Tracey can also offer plenty of advice to improve your chances further. Even if you’ve had a number of failed IVF cycles, Tracey’s advice, treatment and support can turn that record round.
Preparing for IVF and other assisted fertility treatments is very important. The regime of drugs and emotional roller-coaster is often demanding and stressful. Ensuring you and your partner are healthy both emotionally and physically can counteract these effects. This can improve your conception chances. If you’ve experienced failed IVF cycles you are likely to feel negative, anticipating failure or not daring to believe it is possible. You may see your body as failing you. Tracey can help change your mindset and help you once again believe a pregnancy and baby are possible for you. Acupuncture prepares and enhances your body’s response to the IVF drugs. The British Medical Journal in 2008 reported a study of 1,366 women who had undergone IVF. The authors concluded
“acupuncture increased odds of clinical pregnancy by 65% compared with controlled groups and 95% increase in odds of a live birth”.
Reference: British Medical Journal (2008): Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Eric Manheimer et al.
More recent research shows that acupuncture and moxibustion can lead to better chances of a successful pregnancy for women with previous IVF failures. Researchers carried out a prospective randomised controlled trial with 84 patients who experienced at least two unsuccessful IVF attempts. Four sessions of acupuncture were carried out at key stages in the IVF procedure. The clinical pregnancy rate in the acupuncture group was found to be significantly higher than in either the control or sham groups; 35.7% compared with 7.1% and 10.1% respectively. (Sham acupuncture is where needles at put in non-acupuncture points.)
Reference: Influence of acupuncture on the outcomes of in vitro fertilisation when embryo implantation has failed: a prospective randomised controlled clinical trial. Villahermosa et al 2013. Acupunct Med Jun;31(2):157-61. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2012-010269. Epub 2013 Mar 19
Acupuncture has been shown to increase your chances of IVF success and live birth. It’s the number one complementary therapy recommended by fertility clinics. It increases blood flow to your ovaries and womb (uterus) lining, reduces stress and gives you a positive sense of wellbeing by boosting your feel-good endorphins. Research has established possible ways to explain how acupuncture may benefit fertility:
The British Acupuncture Council presents the latest research on acupuncture and assisted conception. Jane Lyttleton is a prominent acupuncturist and her clinic is involved in the latest fertility research. Her clinic site has compiled research which looks at different aspects of fertility and acupuncture, such as how acupuncture impacts on sperm quality, endometriosis, PCOS and the role of stress. Read the research reviews.
The number of sessions will vary depending on where you are in your assisted conception cycle. As the egg and sperm take about 3 months to develop then seeing you prior to the start of medication is preferable. Though for a woman the ovarian follicles which the eggs develop within takes one year to mature and at about 6 months these follicles start to respond to their environment as they have grown their own blood supply; consequently a woman should ideally be starting acupuncture 6 months prior to her Embryo Transfer. This blood supply is critical to the effective delivery of reproductive hormones and nutrition to the follicles. Colour Doppler Studies show that the development of follicles is directly correlated with their circulatory supply1. Further studies shows that acupuncture improves ovarian and uterus blood supply and therefore may potentially improve circulatory supply and hormone nutrient delivery to these follicles2. This will influence egg quality. If you discover on the day of your ‘trigger injection’ several smaller follicles (10-15mm), experience shows that acupuncture on the day before egg retrieval can increase the number of mature eggs retrieved from these follicles. We will look at diet and any other lifestyle factors that you can do to improve the success rates of your IVF.
For the woman, you will be either on a short or long protocol. Acupuncture during ‘down regulation’ for the long protocol aims at increasing blood flow to the uterus and improving egg quality. Weekly sessions are recommended, until the Stimulation phase (see below), then session frequency may be increased. Also it is useful for the man to receive acupuncture too, to reduce stress and increase sperm quality.
If you are on a short protocol or during the stimulation cycle, treatment will be strongly focussed on blood flow to the ovaries and uterus, increasing follicle recruitment and development, so enhancing egg quality and improving lining thickness (endometrium) of the uterus. Reducing stress at this time is very important. The Stimulation phase usually lasts 12 days and acupuncture every 4 days or twice weekly is recommended, particularly if you experienced failed IVF cycles in the past.
After egg collection a treatment the next day is recommended for women experiencing discomfort. This is often when a large number of eggs have been collected. The treatment aims to lessen bloating, reduce any local tissue trauma and prepare a calm environment for the arrival of an embryo.
Research has shown that acupuncture before and after the embryo is transferred to the uterus increases conception rates by 16%3. These sessions should ideally be on the same day as the embryo transfer, though experience is that within 24 hours is adequate. If you are intending only to have these sessions and never had acupuncture before, a treatment before egg collection is recommended also. This will enable you to become familiar with acupuncture and allow for a consultation to be undertaken without reducing your treatment time at transfer.
If the man has no known sperm problems, a session before sperm collection is recommended to reduce stress, which can impact negatively on sperm quality. This should not be the first experience of acupuncture and a familiarisation session is strongly recommended a few days before.
If you’ve experienced unsuccessful IVF cycles previously, your treatment plan may need to be altered from the framework outlined above to ensure we optimise your chances of success. The timing and ‘dosage’ of acupuncture, like taking your IVF drugs, is important for the best outcome.
Research has shown acupuncture may help with these issues during IVF:
Orthodox medical interventions will include altering your drug protocol or surgery. Acupuncture can be used to support this treatment, as most research shows it improves the quality of the follicles and eggs within them by improving blood flow to the ovary1. Similarly acupuncture has been shown to improve uterus or endometrial lining by enhancing blood flow2.
The timing and ‘dosage’ of acupuncture is important to success. Research where acupuncture was shown to be successful was based on more frequent sessions during the stimulation phase of IVF and at embryo transfer time3. Contact me before your next round of IVF. After a consultation and treatment, a plan to enhance your response to your IVF drugs will be discussed with you. In the stimulation phase this may mean you will need two treatments each week to ensure we optimise your chances of a positive outcome. Please plan for this possibility in your schedule.
Fresh and Frozen IVF cycles
Margaret had no choice but to rely on IVF to enable her to conceive. Three years ago she was diagnosed with complex endometrioma, with cysts covering her ovaries and endometrial tissue in her pelvic cavity: her bowel was fixed to her uterus and she was given the unhelpful description of having a ‘frozen pelvis’ to convey the extent of adhesions tethering her abdominal organs. One fallopian tube had to be removed and the other was twisted and leaking fluid into her uterus. She endured very painful periods and irregular cycles. Her first menstrual cycle commencing acupuncture treatment was 46 days long. We did not have time to do 3 cycles of treatment before entering a long IVF protocol and due to timings could only manage 1 session before egg collection (in the stimulation phase at least weekly if not twice weekly sessions are recommended). This meant it was difficult to manage her symptoms and she was borderline ovarian hyperstimulation. For Margaret this meant “a lot of pain”. We also could not get a session on the day of embryo transfer which is recommended. Sadly this cycle of IVF was cancelled due to fluid build up in the uterus, though 5 good quality embryos resulted.
A number of months later a frozen embryo transfer was attempted. A hydrosalophinx was performed to drain fluid from the remaining fallopian tube. Again we only managed 2 sessions before embryo transfer was attempted and the client had become anxious about having points on the low abdomen due to all the surgery she had endured. This was not ideal. Again sadly this cycle did not work. She was now taking antidepressants.
For her third cycle, a medicated frozen transfer protocol was followed, we managed more acupuncture sessions – 8 in total before transfer. I changed my treatment to reflect Margaret’s change in circumstances. I used more electroacupuncture, heat and did front and back treatments. We also managed to do two sessions on her day of embryo transfer. The clinicians could not expirate her fallopian tube, as there was too much scar tissue. However no fluid was obstructing her uterus on transfer and the embryo transfer went ahead and resulted in her becoming pregnant. This is rather a lengthy story but it shows how getting the ‘dose’ right for acupuncture can make a difference.
Frozen IVF (3rd round)
Alice sought acupuncture because her first two cycles of IVF had failed. Her first IVF resulted in low fertilisation rate and no pregnancy. For the second round, ICSI was used to inject sperm into the egg and genetic testing was done on the resulting embryos; two were viable and one was transferred, though this sadly did not develop. Alice had suffered mild ovarian hyperstimulation and one blastocyst remained.
We did weekly acupuncture for 3 menstrual cycles before going into the frozen transfer. This was time to make some lifestyle changes, such as reducing alcohol and changing the diet slightly in accordance with Chinese Medicine. Uterine scar tissue and cysts had been noted in previous IVF rounds and so a scan was done prior to this transfer. None were found and her uterine lining thickness was optimal. Eight sessions of acupuncture were undertaken, together with two sessions on the day of frozen embryo transfer. Alice suffered high anxiety after transfer and so we scheduled a further two sessions after the transfer to help calm her nerves and support blood flow to the uterus. Happily this resulted in her becoming pregnant.