Trying to conceive can be an exciting yet challenging time for many couples. If you’ve been trying for a while without success, you may be considering complementary approaches like acupuncture along with Western fertility treatments.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing technique that involves inserting ultra-thin needles into specific points on the body. It’s increasingly used as an adjunctive therapy for supporting fertility and assisting conception.
But does acupuncture for fertility actually work or is it all just hype? Here we’ll explore the latest scientific research on acupuncture and getting pregnant so you can make an informed decision.
Key Takeaways on Acupuncture and Fertility
- Clinical studies find acupuncture can increase IVF success rates, particularly when done before and after embryo transfer.
- Acupuncture may help fertility by reducing stress, regulating hormones, and increasing blood flow to reproductive organs.
- Acupuncture sessions can take place 1-3 times per week for several months depending on the treatment plan.
- Full body acupuncture and protocols targeting fertility-related points are both used for conception support.
- Acupuncture appears safe during pregnancy but some points should be avoided. Always see a licensed acupuncturist.
- While promising, more research is still needed on acupuncture for natural conception and male factor infertility.
How Can Acupuncture Help You Get Pregnant?
Acupuncture is thought to enhance fertility and conception rates through several mechanisms of action in the body:
1. Increasing Blood Flow to the Reproductive Organs
Research using ultrasound scans has shown acupuncture can increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries. This enhanced circulation delivers oxygen and nutrients, promoting a healthy uterine lining that supports implantation.
Increased blood flow to the ovaries may also stimulate ovarian function and support the maturation and release of eggs.
2. Regulating Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle
Acupuncture points have been shown to influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis which controls hormones and the menstrual cycle.
Regular acupuncture over several months may help regulate FSH, estradiol and progesterone levels. This hormonal balancing can strengthen ovulation, extend the luteal phase, and normalize irregular or absent periods to improve fertility.
3. Reducing Stress and Supporting the Nervous System
Trying to get pregnant can be an extremely stressful time full of disappointment each month when conception doesn’t occur.
Research confirms acupuncture can decrease stress hormones like cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) while also boosting feel-good endorphins.
This stress and anxiety relief combined with acupuncture’s calming effects on the nervous system may help fertility by promoting ovulation and implantation.
4. Improving the Function of the Reproductive Organs
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, acupuncture helps remove energy blockages and promotes the free flow of Qi (vital energy) through the internal organs and meridian system.
This is believed to enhance reproductive organ function by improving circulation, reducing inflammation and encouraging a healthy balance of yin and yang energy in the body.
5. Supporting High-Quality Embryos
Some acupuncture protocols include points thought to benefit endometrial receptivity and embryo implantation. The timing of these treatments corresponds with stages of embryonic development.
This approach may support higher quality embryos with a greater chance of successful implantation and growth.
Overview of the Research on Acupuncture for Fertility
Dozens of clinical trials have analyzed whether acupuncture helps increase conception rates for women (and men) undergoing fertility treatments like IVF as well as those trying to conceive naturally. Here’s an overview of some of the major findings.
Acupuncture and IVF
The most robust data on acupuncture for fertility comes from clinical trials examining it as an add-on IVF treatment. Multiple meta-analyses and systematic reviews of these studies have found:
- Acupuncture around embryo transfer (ET) significantly improves IVF pregnancy success rates.
- Clinical pregnancy rates average 10-15% higher when combining acupuncture with IVF compared to IVF alone.
- Live birth rates are also higher, though not all studies have confirmed this.
- The benefits seem greatest when acupuncture is done immediately before and after ET.
- Both acupuncture at fertility-related points and full-body acupuncture protocols appear effective.
While a few studies show no benefit, most experts agree acupuncture provides some advantages when supporting IVF treatment. It’s considered safe and is offered at many fertility clinics.
Acupuncture for Natural Conception
Research on using acupuncture to get pregnant without assisted reproductive technologies is more limited but initial findings are promising:
- Studies report higher ovulation and pregnancy rates among women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and irregular periods treated with acupuncture compared to medications alone.
- Acupuncture has been shown to regulate FSH, LH and estradiol levels while also normalizing menstrual cycles in women with fertility issues.
- Randomized trials are limited but tend to show improved pregnancy rates over 3-4 month periods among women receiving acupuncture for natural conception support.
- Larger rigorously-designed studies are still needed to confirm acupuncture’s role for unassisted conception.
Acupuncture for Male Factor Infertility
While most fertility acupuncture research has focused on improving outcomes for women, a handful of studies suggest acupuncture could benefit men as well:
- Acupuncture may protect sperm from oxidative damage and improve sperm count, motility, morphology in men with fertility problems.
- Limited evidence indicates acupuncture could increase pregnancy rates when the male partner has infertility issues.
- More high quality clinical trials are required to establish efficacy for male fertility.
Overall the research indicates acupuncture can improve key physiological factors related to fertility and conception for both women and men. More large studies are needed but the current evidence is promising.
What to Expect During Fertility Acupuncture Treatments
If you decide to try acupuncture to boost your chances of conceiving, here’s a look at what you can expect during your fertility-focused acupuncture sessions:
Your first visit will involve an intake assessment of your health history and fertility journey so far. Be prepared to discuss:
- Reproductive health issues like irregular cycles, PCOS, endometriosis
- Prior pregnancies, miscarriages, abortions
- Duration of time trying to conceive
- Use of ovulation prediction kits or basal body temperature tracking
- Health conditions, medications, supplements, diet, lifestyle factors
- Previous fertility testing and any treatment plans
- Emotional state and feelings around trying to conceive
Based on a full picture of your situation, the acupuncturist will create a customized treatment plan.
Treatments 1-2 Times Per Week
Most fertility acupuncture protocols involve 1-3 sessions per week for 3-6 months depending on your circumstances.
Treatments last about 30 minutes with the first visit being 60-90 minutes. You relax fully clothed face up on a massage table as the acupuncturist inserts needles at specific points on your body.
Full body acupuncture – This involves needling of classical points on the legs, arms, hands, ears and abdomen to balance Qi and support reproductive function.
Fertility-specific points – Points on the abdomen, ankles, thighs and wrists associated with the uterus, ovaries, hormones and menstrual cycle will be targeted along with full body needling.
Points will be stimulated manually or with electrical pulse depending on the protocol. Needles are left in place for 15-30 minutes while you rest before being removed.
Pre and Post Embryo Transfer
If doing IVF, you’ll have sessions right before and after embryo transfer targeting uterine and implantation points. Extra treatments may be done during ovarian stimulation too.
Herbal Formulas and Dietary Advice
Your acupuncturist may suggest customized herbal formulas and offer diet/lifestyle advice to enhance your treatment plan.
Is Acupuncture Safe When Trying to Get Pregnant?
Acupuncture performed by a licensed and experienced practitioner using single-use disposable needles is considered very safe for women trying to conceive.
Mild side effects like drowsiness, bleeding or bruising at needle sites can sometimes occur. Serious adverse events are extremely rare.
However, there are some precautions to be aware of:
- Avoid abdomen needling if you could be pregnant since these points may stimulate contractions.
- Skip electroacupuncture which could disrupt a newly implanted embryo. Manual needling is fine.
- Watch herbal prescriptions – some formulas contain ingredients that could impact fertility.
- Communicate with your acupuncturist about medications or health conditions that could affect treatment.
- Speak up about symptoms of dizziness, fatigue or discomfort during sessions so adjustments can be made.
When done correctly, acupuncture is a safe, non-invasive therapy that can easily be combined with medications, supplements or other treatments prescribed by your doctor.
Is Acupuncture Effective? What the Research Says
Given the research we’ve covered, is acupuncture an effective way to increase your chances of getting pregnant and having a baby either naturally or through IVF?
While study quality varies, meta-analyses consistently show acupuncture provides statistically and clinically significant improvements in pregnancy and live birth rates when used alongside embryo transfer.
Acupuncture is proven to influence key physiological aspects like hormones, uterine blood flow and endometrial thickness which support fertility and conception.
For natural conception, findings are promising but limited – more research is needed to prove efficacy conclusively. There is also minimal data on acupuncture for male infertility at this time.
Overall, current evidence indicates acupuncture can be considered an appropriate adjunctive therapy when trying to conceive naturally or through IVF based on its safety profile and positive impact on fertility factors.
However, acupuncture remains complementary to standard medical care which should be your primary focus. Work with both your acupuncturist and doctor to create the most effective combined treatment plan.
While adding acupuncture may give you an extra boost, manage expectations – conception depends on numerous variables and it’s not guaranteed to work for every couple. Give it time for maximum benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture for Fertility
Does acupuncture help you ovulate?
Research indicates acupuncture can help regulate hormones and stimulate ovulation in women with irregular menstrual cycles or ovulation issues. However, if lack of ovulation is caused by a serious medical condition, acupuncture alone may be insufficient to restore normal function.
When should you start acupuncture for IVF?
Many experts advise starting acupuncture 3 months prior to IVF treatment. Aim for 1-2 sessions per week during this time focusing on regulation of your cycle, hormone balance and stress reduction. Continue treatments during IVF including before and after embryo transfer.
How often should you get acupuncture for fertility?
Most fertility acupuncture protocols involve 1-3 sessions per week for 3-6 months. The frequency depends on your specific situation. Work with an experienced acupuncturist to determine the ideal schedule.
Does fertility acupuncture work for PCOS?
Yes, clinical studies have found acupuncture can help regulate hormones, stimulate ovulation and improve pregnancy rates in women with PCOS. When combined with lifestyle changes, acupuncture may restore normal menstrual function.
Can acupuncture help if sperm analysis is bad?
While limited, there is some research showing acupuncture may improve sperm quality parameters like count, motility and morphology in men with abnormal semen analysis. More studies are needed to prove efficacy for male factor infertility.
Conclusion: The Takeaway on Acupuncture and Conception
While questions remain, the body of evidence suggests acupuncture can benefit fertility and IVF success rates for many women and potentially men as well. It influences key physiological factors, reduces fertility obstacles like stress and hormone imbalance, and is proven to increase IVF pregnancy rates when combined with embryo transfer.
However, acupuncture remains an adjunctive treatment and is not a replacement for standard medical care. Work with both your acupuncturist and reproductive endocrinologist or ob-gyn to integrate it into your conception plan for maximum results.
While adding acupuncture may boost your chances of getting pregnant, it is not guaranteed to work for every couple given the many variables involved. Try to be patient as it may take 3 or more months of consistent treatments to see benefits.
If you have any specific fertility issues, speak to both a qualified acupuncturist and your doctor to see if acupuncture is appropriate for your situation.
Above all, stay hopeful on your conception journey and explore acupuncture as a safe, drug-free option that may support you in getting pregnant naturally or through assisted reproductive therapies like IVF.