Acupuncture is the most commonly used complementary therapy used in combination with IVF. Used predominantly to increase success rates, it is also useful in helping support couples as they go through this challenging process. While acupuncture works to aid implantation rates and subsequent healthy pregnancy in assisted conception (IVF), IUI and Clomid cycles can be supported in a similar ways.
Research has shown that acupuncture increases the success rates for women having in-vitro fertilization – IVF – by almost 50%. The studies show that acupuncture reduces stress and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, all of which improves the success rate of IVF and IUI. Importantly, acupuncture helps prevent cramping in the womb after IVF treatment, and this not only helps prevent expulsion of the embryo after IVF but it is also important in helping to prevent ectopic pregnancy, as well as assisting implantation of the embryo.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE HELP FOR IVF
It has been suggested that acupuncture may increase implantation rates through:
- regulating stress hormones that affect implantation
- modulating neuroendocrinological factors (regulating hormone levels)
- increasing blood flow to the uterine lining
- modulating cytokines and immune response
THE STAGES OF ACUPUNCTURE DURING IVF
The following stages give an idea of the ideal timings of acupuncture treatment when used alongside IVF treatment and the purpose of treatment at each stage. You will see that emphasis is placed on enhancing the function of the uterine environment throughout in order to improve the likelihood of successful implantation. The healthy function of the uterine environment is, in Chinese medicine, reflected through the nature of the menstrual flow, which ideally should be bright red, free flowing and without pain or clotting.
STAGE 1 – ACUPUNCTURE PRIOR TO IVF
Many clients choose to start their acupuncture in the months leading up to an IVF cycle. Often IVF occurs after months or years of trying to conceive naturally, or with other assisted methods such as Clomid or IUI. Although the research shows that acupuncture on the day of the embryo transfer significantly increases the success of IVF, it is the experience of most acupuncturists and their patients that a period of preparatory treatment before an IVF cycle can increase the success rate even further. Acupuncturists at this stage will work to regulate the menstrual cycle, support efficient and regular ovulation and optimise hormone levels. We will assess each stage of your menstrual cycle and look to ensure the release of the best possible egg and the development of the best possible implantation environment.
STAGE 2 – ACUPUNCTURE DURING DOWN-REGULATION (LONG PROTOCOL) OR BEFORE THE PERIOD (SHORT PROTOCOL)
During down-regulation, the medication is used to stop the stimulation of the ovaries by the pituitary gland. This effectively puts your menstrual cycle on pause, so that the ovaries can be controlled with stimulation drugs. However such regulation can cause the period to be delayed, to be lighter or to not come at all. At this point, acupuncture treatment is focused on ensuring an efficient shedding of the endometrial lining. Producing a full clear-out of the old endometrium allows the best opportunity to develop a fresh, healthy and thick lining with good blood flow.
Treatment may also be used at this stage to reduce the potential side effects of down-regulation such as headaches or hot flushes.
If you are on the short protocol (and are not taking down-regulation medication), the principle is exactly the same – to try to achieve the best possible clear out of the old lining to make way for the new.
STAGE 3 – DURING THE STIMULATION PHASE
During the stimulation phase follicles start to develop in the ovaries and the endometrial lining starts to build up again. The medications are targeting the ovaries to produce multiple mature follicles. IVF stimulation enables the ovaries to provide more mature eggs to be collected than on a normal natural cycle. As such the acupuncture does not significantly add to the number of follicles produced, but rather concentrates on optimising the quality and function of the lining, helping it both thicken and have a good blood supply. Typically patients are seen twice during this phase and if there is any specific issues such as thin endometrium, blood-clotting disorders, or very dark clotted menstrual flow, an additional treatment may be given during this phase.
STAGE 4 – ACUPUNCTURE BEFORE AND AFTER EMBRYO TRANSFER
Acupuncture is performed both before and after the embryo transfer.
The purpose of the treatment is to increase blood flow to the uterine lining in order to increase receptivity and to reduce any uterine contractions or spasms that may occur due to the transfer procedure itself.
Two acupuncture treatments are recommended on the day of embryo transfer. One prior to the transfer and then straight after the embryo transfer.
Research strongly suggests that these treatments are time-dependent which means it should be done as soon as possible before and after. Although this can be logistically difficult for many acupuncturists, research shows that settling for treatment a day before and a day after provides no significant benefit.
At this point, treatment also works to regulate stress hormones, which affect implantation, reduce anxiety and calm the mind.
STAGE 5 – ACUPUNCTURE IN THE TWO WEEK WAIT AND BEYOND
There appears to be little evidence that having acupuncture during the “two-week wait” after embryo transfer increases implantation rates.
However, this is a very stressful period for many couples, and if anxiety levels are high, acupuncture may be used to help relax during this time.
Ideally, once a positive result has been achieved, treatment until week 12 of the pregnancy is recommended in order to maintain balance and ensure the pregnancy progresses smooth.
Naseema our resident acupuncturist will work hand-in-hand with you and your fertility specialist, she will help you navigate your fertility journey and support you in choosing your best complementary treatment options.