Can Acupuncture Treat Infertility?

What You Need to Know About Acupuncture

Woman feeling very calm during acpuncture
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Acupuncture is one of the more popular alternative treatments used for infertility. More and more fertility clinics are offering mind-body programs, and some of them offer acupuncture.

If the idea of having tiny needles placed in your body sounds less than appealing, you're not alone. The very idea of acupuncture can make needle phobic patients shiver.

Here's the good news: the needles you may encounter during fertility treatment are nothing like the thin acupuncture needles.

Seriously.

Wondering what acupuncture feels like? If it hurts? And how it may be used during fertility treatment? Read on.

What Can I Expect From An Acupuncture Appointment?

Jill Blakeway, clinic director of The YinOva Center in New York City and co-author of the book Making Babies: A Proven Three Month Program for Maximum Fertility (Little Brown, 2009), described for me what a typical session of acupuncture looks like.

She says that for a first session, she typically sets aside 40 minutes for asking questions and consultation, and 30 minutes for the actual acupuncture treatment.

"I take a full history," she explains. "Many of the questions are similar to those a medical doctor would ask, but some of them will seem strange." Examples of "strange" questions include: What kind of food cravings do you have? Do you generally feel warmer or cooler than other people?

"Unlike a conventional doctor, I am looking for patterns of disharmony," she says.

"No symptom in Chinese medicine makes sense except in relation to other signs and symptoms."

She also looks at a person's tongue and checks their pulse. "The pulse in Chinese medicine is particularly important, and a great deal of information can be gleaned from it."

After taking the history, next comes the acupuncture treatment itself.

For the treatment, you lie down on a special table while the tiny, hair-thin acupuncture needles are placed in different spots on the body.

"The needles are sterilized and single-use, and I use about 15 in a treatment," she says. "Most people barely feel them, and most of my patients report feeling relaxed and calm during the treatment."

Do Acupuncture Needles Hurt?

The idea of having needles stuck into your body elicits thoughts of pain for most, but the needles used for acupuncture are extremely thin.

Everyone experiences the needles differently. Generally, people describe feeling from almost nothing at all, to a slight tingling sensation, to the feeling you might get when a single hair is pulled out.

Heather*, a clinical social worker in New York City, tried out acupuncture to help her with her infertility. After three unsuccessful IUIs and an unsuccessful IVF treatment, she switched doctors. The new doctor surgically treated her for endometriosis, after which they tried three IUI treatments again.

On the third IUI (or sixth, if you include the first three), she got pregnant.

She tried out acupuncture while going through fertility treatments and was, at least at first, concerned about the needles.

"I was hesitant to try it our only because I hate needles," Heather says. "Who doesn't, right? I figured after going through the needles used for progesterone, I could handle this. And to my surprise, it was such a positive wonderful experience."

"I was amazed at how attentive and knowledgeable my acupuncturist was," Heather continues. "I found the needles to be painless; actually you really don't feel them at all. There are times when you feel a sensation when they are first inserted, but that goes away.

"I always found that I was much calmer and relaxed after leaving my session. It was great because infertility can leave you feeling very anxious."

When Does Treatment Take Place?

Most acupuncturists recommend that treatment begin at least three months before any fertility treatments will be started. Some also recommend continued treatment through the first three months of pregnancy.

"Whilst seeing an acupuncturist twice may be all you need to deal with sciatic pain in your leg, it probably won't be so helpful when dealing with infertility," explains Blakeway. "This is because the acupuncture has a cumulative effect on hormonal changes throughout the cycle."

However, if weekly treatment for three months doesn't sound like your thing, it may be beneficial to receive treatment just before and after an IVF embryo transfer.

Research on infertility has shown that treatment on the day of the embryo transfer may increase your chances of success.

How Much Does Acupuncture Cost?

Prices vary based on the experience and training of the acupuncturists, how many sessions are being provided, and whether or not herbal treatments are also included.

Also, the first visit will typically be more expensive, since that includes initial consultation time.

Initial consultations seem to average around $75 to $150, with subsequent visits averaging between $50 to $75. Some acupuncture practitioners provide discounts if several treatments are scheduled, as opposed to only a few treatments.

If your fertility clinic offers acupuncture services, there may also be a discount when performed alongside conventional fertility treatment.

Whether or not your clinic offers acupuncture, make sure your fertility doctors knows about any herbal treatments you're trying.

Herbs can interact with your fertility drugs and fertility testing, so don't keep your alternative medicine dabbling a secret.

Will Insurance Cover The Cost of My Treatments?

Probably not, but it might. You should definitely call and ask. Even if they don't pay everything, they might cover part of the cost.

How Can I Find An Acupuncturist For Fertility?

It's important that you don't use just any acupuncturist when treating infertility. You should use someone who has special training or experience in treating fertility and pregnancy issues.

To find out what questions to ask and where to look for an acupuncturist for infertility, read this:

More Ways to Boost Your Fertility

Sources:

Jill Blakeway. Email interview. October 2008.

Treating Infertility Using Acupuncture. American Pregnancy Association. Accessed on October 19, 2008. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/infertility/acupuncture.htm

* For privacy reasons, Heather's name has been changed to protect her identity at her request.

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