While there is some controversy about viability of acupuncture as a fertility treatment, a review of recent studies published in the Clinical Journal of Integrative Medicine in May 2011 stated that "most of the existing studies suggest a positive effect of acupuncture in infertility treatment.”
Acupuncture and Infertility
Some doctors believe that acupuncture is especially helpful with in vitro fertilization (IVF), and that treatments before and after embryo transfer and intrauterine insemination may significantly improve pregnancy rates by:
- reducing stress
- correcting hormonal imbalances
- strengthening the immune system
- increasing blood flow to the uterus
Research has also shown that acupuncture can boost fertility in men. According to a study in Fertility and Sterility, acupuncture can increase the number of healthy sperm a man has and also decreases the number of defective sperm.
Whether you’re combining acupuncture with IVF or using it alone, practitioners suggest beginning treatments three to four months before trying to conceive. Your acupuncturist will probably want to see you at least once per week.
If you’re using acupuncture in conjunction with IVF, you’ll receive treatments right up to the day of embryo transfer. Practitioners also claim treatments during your first trimester can help prevent miscarriage and decrease water retention, back pain, fatigue and morning sickness.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture, the insertion of thin, disposable needles into strategic parts of the body, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2000 years. Practitioners believe that energy called “chi” or "qi" flows along a complex system of meridians in the body. Its purpose is to regulate your body’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual balance. Inserting a needle in one of more than 350 acupuncture points brings chi to another part of the body connected by a meridian. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of maladies, especially pain. Still, Western health practitioners have a mixed reception.
What Are The Risks?
Acupuncture has few risks, assuming you find a qualified practitioner. Risks include:
- Minor bruising or bleeding around insertion sites.
- In rare instances, a needle could puncture an organ.
- In rare instances, a needle could be reused and expose you to infection or disease.
Acupuncture may be contraindicated if you:
- have a bleeding disorder
- take blood thinners
- have a pacemaker
If you’re new to acupuncture and find it stressful, treatments could produce the opposite of the desired effect on your fertility. You must feel comfortable with both the practitioner and the treatment environment.
Procedures may also leave you feeling drowsy. Allow adequate time to wake up before driving a car, or arrange for somebody to drive you home from your treatments.
What Is A Typical Session Like?
Acupuncture sessions vary depending on the practitioner. Your first session will probably take at least an hour as the practitioner makes an initial assessment. She or he may examine your skin coloring, the color and coating on your tongue and the quality of your pulse
Subsequent appointments may be as short as half an hour.
In a typical acupuncture session:
- You’ll lie on a massage table while the practitioner inserts needles into specific points.
- Depending on the points, you may need to remove some clothing.
- You might feel a slight pinching, tingling or burning sensation from the ultra-fine needles, but they shouldn’t be painful.
- The practitioner might insert as few as five needles, or as many as 20. Needles may be used in conjunction with small electrical pulses or manually twirled.
- Usually the needles stay in place for 10 to 20 minutes or more while you relax on the massage table.
Immediate effects vary. After the treatment, you may feel drowsy, energized or neutral.
How Are Acupuncturists Regulated?
Laws governing acupuncturists vary from state to state. Most states require acupuncturists to be licensed through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
If you're considering acupuncture for fertility:
- Check out the acupuncturist’s credentials and training. You want somebody who specializes in fertility.
- Interview the acupuncturist.
- Ask other women for recommendations.
- See if the practitioner is covered by your insurance plan.
How Much Does Acupuncture Cost?
The cost of acupuncture varies between practitioners and geographical location. Expect to pay between $60 and $120 per session. Your initial consultation may cost more. Also check with your insurance company to see if it will cover all or some of the cost.
Updated August 2014