Written by Carolyn
Why Would You Be Doing Acupuncture?
In general terms, the purpose of acupuncture is to reconnect the flow of chi through the meridians of the body. When part of the body becomes blocked, chi builds up and is unable to flow to other areas of the body. The needles used in acupuncture can help unblock these chi stoppages and reconnect the flow of energy all over the body. Acupuncture has been practiced in Asia for over 2,000 years and is practiced all over the world today to help treat a variety of medical conditions including infertility.
Specifically, acupuncture is believed to help stimulate blood flow to the reproductive organs (in women and men) and aid in balancing hormone levels. Thus, acupuncture is more helpful for patients with functional fertility problems (such as hormone imbalances) than structural problems (such as blocked fallopian tubes). Regardless, acupuncture can also help as a relaxation aid, especially when a patient is going through a stressful medical procedure such as IVF.
Acupuncture can be done in conjunction with other infertility treatments or alone, and is frequently accompanied by herbal treatments prescribed by the acupuncturist.
What You Can Expect
**This is my experience with one acupuncturist. I didn’t have many appointments, and I’m sure that other acupuncturists will do slightly different things than mine did. I don’t have experience using Chinese herbs, which many acupuncturists instruct their patients to take. Nonetheless, I hope this and any comments that follow will give you a reasonably good idea of what to expect when doing acupuncture to help with fertility.**
Your first acupuncture appointment should be on the longer side—mine was around 90 minutes. The first 20-30 minutes were spent filling out a medical history form and talking with my acupuncturist about what I wanted to achieve during our sessions. After that, the acupuncture itself lasted 45-60 minutes. Later sessions should also be around an hour.
Your acupuncturist will ask you to remove your pants/skirt and possibly your top. If you’re uncomfortable removing your shirt, I suggest wearing a loose tank top or cap-sleeved blouse. Comfort is essential—the chi can’t flow if you’re too tense. Ask for a blanket or sheet if you’re cold.
If you’re squeamish about needles, close your eyes as the acupuncturist puts them in. Each needle is sterile and for single-use only. Some you may not even feel, others can be uncomfortable for a minute or two. Try to relax. Your acupuncturist should tell you where he/she is inserting the needles and what each is intended to do. Each needle is tiny and very, very thin. These aren’t like the needles you use to do an injection!
Depending on your body and energy, the needles may hurt, tingle, or give you a “swirling” sensation at the insertion site. If they hurt, make sure the acupuncturist knows, so he/she can reposition the needle more comfortably. I typically had one needle in my forehead, one in each arm, two on each hand, one or two in my belly, and several on my legs and feet.
After the needles are inserted, the acupuncturist typically puts on some soothing music and leaves the room for 15-20 minutes. This is a good time to focus on your mantra or some inspirational quote/imagery that will help you to relax and focus on your chi. I found that doing a body scan was very helpful in determining where I still had chi blockages and where the needles were really working.
The acupuncturist should come in again and shift the position of the needles to “stir” the chi before leaving you alone for another 15 minutes. Again, try to meditate or use your mantra/imagery. After 15 minutes are up, the acupuncturist will remove the needles and talk to you for a minute about how you’re feeling. Get up as slowly as you need—I was usually a little dizzy after a session and needed a minute to re-orient myself.
Reactions to acupuncture really vary depending on the person. I found that immediately my periods became heavier and shorter. I was also more energized and focused in the days after a session and was more relaxed during medical procedures.
Here Are Some Problems That Might Arise
Quite a few doctors still don’t believe that acupuncture is a valid way to assist in treating infertility. You may encounter resistance from your RE, but it’s important to tell all of your doctors that you’re doing acupuncture. Some acupuncturists also prescribe Chinese herbs to assist in conception. Mine didn’t, but I would strongly advise you to research these herbs on your own and speak with your physician before taking them.
On a random note, blood banks treat acupuncture the same way they treat tattoos and piercings. If you’ve had a session in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood. This isn’t a problem for most people, but something I discovered when I went to donate blood a few months after my last acupuncture appointment. Some blood banks will allow acupuncture patients to donate blood if the acupuncture has been performed by a licensed doctor.
Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions! Finding the right acupuncturist is the most important step. Get referrals from anyone you know who has used acupuncture for fertility. Search Internet message boards if you don’t personally know anyone who has done it. Finding an acupuncturist is easy, but finding one who specializes in helping infertile patients conceive can be difficult. Do your homework. Once you’ve found an acupuncturist, “interview” them during your first appointment. Make sure that your personalities click. This is a person you’re trusting with your reproductive health, so make sure that you trust them as much as you trust your doctor. Like your doctor, your acupuncturist should know all medications you’re taking, medical procedures you’re undergoing, and have emergency contact information for you in case something unexpected happens.