If you’re a believer in the mind-body connection, you’re probably a fan of acupuncture. Whether it’s to achieve harmony between your mental and physical self or simply to relax, acupuncture is a useful way to practice holistic health.
It’s no surprise, then, that acupuncture has made its way into the infertility community and is commonly offered to women beginning infertility care or undergoing IVF. Research into the impact of acupuncture on infertility patients has been promising, especially from a mental health standpoint – it is proven to promote relaxation and puts women at ease during what is usually a hectic and stressful time.
There are two types of acupuncture practiced at RMANJ for infertile women seeking care – traditional, or needle, acupuncture, and laser acupuncture. But before we get into the specifics of each, it’s important to understand the purpose of acupuncture.
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese, or Eastern, medicine, which has been practiced in China for over 2,500 years. The premise is simple: there is a vital life source, or energy, which flows within the body, and it is called Qi (pronounced ‘chee’). Qi is always in flux, moving and changing. When Qi is disrupted, or the flow of energy is compromised, health problems and disease can ensue, requiring the restoration of Qi, which allows the body to heal. This is where acupuncture comes in – fine needles are inserted into various points on 14 meridians, or pathways, in the body that facilitate the movement of Qi and promote healing.
The effects of acupuncture on infertile women may include increased production and release of endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural analgesics and can increase blood flow. Advocates of acupuncture suggest that this supports the growth of a healthy ovarian follicle, enhancing stimulation cycles. Other effects may include regulating menstrual cycles, combating stress and lessening headaches and digestive issues.
At RMANJ, the two types of acupuncture are offered at different times – needle acupuncture is offered prior to IVF treatment, and laser acupuncture is only offered on the day of frozen embryo transfer.
If you are like most RMANJ patients and opt for laser acupuncture on transfer day, here’s what you can expect:
- the laser acupuncturist will treat you in your private transfer room
- the goal of the laser acupuncture is to relax and invigorate the uterus with the flow of energy and blood
- the laser is placed on points on top of the head, ears, abdomen, wrists, and legs and is left on points for only 15-30 seconds
- most patients don’t feel anything (with needle acupuncture, patients feel a minor pinch)
- the laser emits a beeping noise so acupuncturists can monitor time
- for post-transfer acupuncture, it is recommended the patient go to the bathroom, and then laser acupuncture is done on the ears, arms and legs
- each treatment – before and after transfer – takes about 10 minutes
So does it work? Many studies indicate that it does. However, some have suggested minimal benefit. Given this lack of consensus, researchers at RMANJ performed a study of their own to determine whether or not acupuncture was beneficial in our practice setting.
That study showed that women who had laser acupuncture had higher rates of implantation, pregnancy and delivery than those who did not. A recent study done in Australia also showed a modest benefit, although the difference was small. An interesting byproduct of this study, however, was the observation that women who had acupuncture reported reduced stress than those who didn’t.
No matter to which study you refer, know that if you choose to undergo acupuncture during your infertility journey, you’ll be in good hands.