Have you considered trying acupuncture? The practice has been in use in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It uses very thin needles, inserted into strategic points on the body, to help alleviate pain, improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and deliver other physical benefits.
Many people turn to acupuncture when TTC, as it can help support fertility and can improve outcomes from IVF.
I talked to three licensed acupuncture practitioners for this post to find out what kinds of outcomes they’re seeing for their clients who struggle with fertility, and to have them explain in their own words how acupuncture works, and what you can expect when trying it out for the first time.
- Barbara Pocznyiak (Vital Bloom Wellness): After decades of suffering the effects of undiagnosed endometriosis, Barbara met a doctor who encouraged her to supplement conventional medical treatments with diet and energy work. That was when a healing shift finally began for her, which eventually led her to study acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. She is focused on the particular health needs of women, especially those with issues that are not easily resolved by Western Medicine.
- Jim Vitale (Suffolk County Acupuncture): Jim has been practicing acupuncture for 18 years. He was drawn to the healing arts by a lifelong passion for health and fitness, and was inspired to specialize in fertility following his own challenging experience with conceiving. Having experienced the pain and despair of a diagnosis and ultimately the joy of a successful conception and childbirth, he understands what couples are experiencing and has developed his practice to offer help. Jim has lived and studied in Japan and China for several years, and is trained in acupuncture, Chinese herbs, NAET, nutrition, and Qigong.
- Lorne Brown (Acubalance Wellness Centre): Even during his first career as a CPA, Lorne was more interested in learning about health and wellness. When he developed several personal health issues that Western medicine approaches didn’t fully address, he found Chinese medicine and it healed him. He returned to school and became a Doctor of Chinese Medicine and started his own practice in 2000. Following his patients’ needs, Lorne became focused on using acupuncture and Chinese medicine to help with infertility and pregnancy.
How Does Acupuncture Work for Infertility?
“Acupuncture helps improve circulation, supports the body’s ability to handle inflammation, and helps balance the body’s healing system,” explained Barbara Pocznyiak when I asked her how acupuncture works.
Barbara went on to explain that when the needles are placed at specific points on the body, endorphins are released that increase blood circulation and can help lower cortisol. To help with fertility, treatments can focus on the ovaries and uterine lining, bringing increased blood flow to these areas and making them more receptive to implantation.
Acupuncture also reduces stress on the nervous system, explained Jim Vitale. “This is a huge, especially when going through cycles with IVF or IUI. Acupuncture really brings the nervous system back into balance – out of fight-or-flight and into a more relaxed state of ‘rest and digest’.”
“The body has an innate ability to heal and can self-regulate,” explained Lorne Brown. “We don’t make it heal, we just create a supportive environment to let the body do its own healing more easily. We just need to give the body what it needs.”
Does Acupuncture Hurt? What Does it Feel Like?
“The needles are like a cat’s whisker. They’re very tiny. Not like a hypodermic,” Barbara says. “You could feel a small prick or not, depending on where it is on the body. Sometimes you’ll feel a ‘buzz’ in the area, or warmth, or numbness; but they don’t feel sharp.”
It can be unnerving for many first-time acupuncture patients wondering what it feels like to have needles placed in their body.
“It’s not like it is on TV,” Jim explains. “The needles aren’t a foot long. They’re as thin as a human hair. I show my patients what they look like, and often I’ll put one into myself to demonstrate. They only go in a few millimeters – just past the surface of the skin.”
Once the needles are placed, you can expect to rest in place for 30 minutes or so. The goal is for you to relax; you may be encouraged to try to clear your mind, or listen to a meditation.
“Many people call it an acu-nap,” Barbara says. “After you should feel calmer, refreshed. And most people sleep better.”
Does it Work? What is the Success Rate for Acupuncture?
There are so many different avenues to explore when it comes to trying to support your reproductive health. Acupuncture is just one. So naturally, many people want to know whether it will be worth their time.
Success rates can be difficult to quantify without a definitive start and finish like an IVF cycle. But Lorne shared the following example:
“A woman came to us for help. She had PCOS and needed medication to ovulate. She had already tried clomid, IUIs, and two IVF cycles without success, and she had one remaining frozen embryo. She was overweight, and suffered from depression, fatigue, and acne. After working with us for four-and-a-half months (at four treatments a week), she lost 25 pounds, her depression and acne were gone, and she had ovulated and got pregnant naturally.”
While that is only one success story, there are many more on Lorne’s Acubalance site.
“You will feel better immediately,” Jim says. “It’s difficult to give stats on success, but acupuncture will restore the body’s health. Your stress levels will go down, you will feel more relaxed and peaceful. Your nervous system will begin to restore and reset itself.”
Acupuncture is Only One Part of Creating Internal Balance
While acupuncture alone can help resolve ailments such as pain or anxiety, fertility often requires a more multi-pronged approach.
“We also look at diet, lifestyle, and other internal clues that could point us toward the problem,” Jim explained. “Often, hormones are imbalanced and there is a lot of toxicity.”
We Are the Plant
There is a Chinese saying, Lorne tells me, that says: Nourish the soil before you plant the seed.
He asks me if I’ve ever had a plant that was neglected and looked like it should be tossed, but with a little water and fertilizer, came back to life.
“Do you change the roots? No. The plant itself always had the potential to produce fruits and flowers, but the soil was suboptimal,” he explains. “By nourishing the soil, we provide the right environment to maximize the fertility potential of the eggs.”
Lorne relates this to fertility: “You can pull out the weeds and rocks (gentle detoxification), and this will help support your body’s natural detox systems. If you’re lacking fertilizer (nutrients), you create the right diet. If the soil PH is off (inflammation), acupuncture can help balance hormones and lower inflammation.”
“When you’re stressed, your body will focus energy on survival not reproduction,” he continues. “Learn breath-work and listen to meditations like Circle + Bloom, and you can free up energy for healing and reproduction.”
Healthy Diet for Fertility
One of the biggest misconceptions about a healthy diet, Jim tells me, is that it should be low-fat. But this is the worst diet for fertility. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands require fat molecules to function properly.
“The body needs the right kinds of fat – good fats. Avocados, olive oil, grass fed butter – all are good to help restore fertility. You want good fats, protein, and moderate to low carbs,” Jim explains. “Keto and paleo diets are close, but they’re too extreme – too hard to maintain over time. Women need a little bit of carbs to keep their cycles balanced. Sweet potatoes, yams, little bit of grains (whole grains), but not more than 15-20% of their diet. We have to relearn the ideas about what is a healthy diet.”
To help his patients reframe their diet to support their fertility, Lorne developed “The Acubalance Fertility Diet,” which he offers free for download on his website. The diet is a blend of Chinese medicine wisdom
and the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study that showed that diet can significantly impact hormone balance, egg and sperm quality, and conception rates.
Timing: When Should You Start Working with an Acupuncturist?
“If you wanted to run a marathon tomorrow, you probably couldn’t because you haven’t trained for it,” Jim says. “You need some time to train your body to be ready for pregnancy.”
All three acupuncture practitioners I spoke to agreed that the best results for fertility will take at least 3 months of treatment.
“It takes months to clear out toxins and rebuild the strength of the ovaries,” Jim continues. “It takes at least 90 days to improve egg quality. What we start now won’t show up in egg quality for at least three months. If I get someone early enough in a cycle, and we clean up their diet and get them the appropriate supplements, we’ll start to see improvements after a few months: basal body temps stabilize, FSH levels go down, AMH levels improve…”
“One day of good habits doesn’t make an impact,” Lorne says. “We can’t give one acupuncture treatment and expect it to be enough. It takes approximately 100 days to maximize egg quality.”
Acupuncture is a cumulative therapy. It builds on itself, visit after visit. But you won’t need to keep going forever, Barbara explains. “Many patients will come in for three or six months, up to a year, depending on your individual needs.”
As more and more IVF centers form partnerships with acupuncture practitioners, one of the concerns is that patients will come in for acupuncture in the middle of an IVF cycle just for support during the transfer.
“At the point of a transfer, it’s a little late,” Barbara explains. “Acupuncture can still be useful on the day of transfer, it’s calming and it does help, but giving yourself more time in advance can help more.”
Finding an Acupuncture Practitioner
When looking to try acupuncture to support your fertility needs, Barbara advises finding a licensed acupuncturist trained in Eastern or Chinese medicine.
“Depending on where you live in North America,” she says, “Some practitioners may have more of a physiotherapy approach which is focused more on pain relief or sports medicine. Find someone trained in womens’ health.”
Read more about acupuncture and the practitioners we spoke with here at each of their sites:
- Barbara Pocznyiak, Vital Bloom Wellness
- Jim Vitale, Suffolk County Acupuncture
- Lorne Brown, Acubalance Wellness Centre
Later this month, we’ll have a follow-up blog post with Lorne about a relatively new development in alternative therapy for infertility: Low-Level Laser Therapy.
With love & gratitude,