Fertility is becoming an increasingly common issue as a result of more and more people postponing having children until later in life. It’s no secret that the millennial generation is heading to college, building careers and side hustles, and traveling the world before jumping into parenthood. In fact, according to a NY Times article, the average age of first-time mothers is 26, which is up from age 21 in 1972.
With that being said, it is also common knowledge that a woman’s fertility decreases with age. It begins to rapidly decrease in her early thirties and by age 40 an average healthy woman has only a five percent chance of getting pregnant per cycle.
Since more and more millennials are facing this struggle, along with other fertility issues, a common corner for fertility support has been acupuncture. According to Founder and Clinic Director of Herb and Ohm, Dr. Amy Wolf, “it is often recommended to seek help with fertility issues if pregnancy does not occur after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse if you are age 35 or younger, or after six months if you are 36 or older.”
She also explains that there are other reasons to seek help with fertility such as irregular menstrual cycles, inconsistent or no ovulation, and male factor fertility issues including sperm count, motility and morphology.
The history of acupuncture and fertility
Utilizing acupuncture as an aid in fertility is not a new concept.
Dr. Wolf explains, “In China, couples have long turned to acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a natural form of treatment to boost fertility and ultimately achieve a successful pregnancy. In the West, this type of therapy is increasingly gaining popularity, both used on its own and in conjunction with assistive reproductive techniques, such as IVF and IUI. Acupuncture is a safe, natural, and effective way to treat infertility without side effects. In addition to abundant anecdotal evidence that acupuncture can help couples conceive, a recent review of several well-conducted studies concluded that acupuncture may increase the success rate of IVF by 65 percent.”
How acupuncture can help fertility
So how exactly does acupuncture aid in fertility? Well, for starters, acupuncture and fertility treatment is performed on both men and women.
Acupunturist Calley Williams, L.Ac. explains, “In general, acupuncturists tend to see more women for fertility, but it’s actually important and very helpful for men to come in too. Some of the main principles of treating infertility in women are nourishing the yin (not related to gender, but rather the feminine energetics of the body), nourishing the organs involved in a healthy cycle (liver, kidneys, and spleen), releasing pent-up emotions and stress, and improving circulation in the reproductive organs.”
She continues, “We use both local acupuncture points on the lower abdomen, and distal points on the respective channels to achieve this. This helps to regulate hormones, increase circulation in the uterus and ovaries for good egg health and a healthy endometrial layer, increase energy (your body needs a good supply of energy to make a baby and carry them full-term), and relieve the emotional stress related to the whole process.”
How acupuncture helps male fertility, too
Williams explains that when nourishing the masculine energetics of the body known as the yang, treatment focuses on “nourishing the kidneys which provide nourishment for the sex organs, improving circulation in the body, releasing pent-up emotions and stress, and treating any other imbalances we find.”
“We don’t need to use any local points for men—points on the abdomen, back, arms, and legs are used to circulate energy and blood in the entire body,” she explains. “This helps with sperm quality and motility, increases the likelihood of pregnancy, and also relieves the emotional stress with the whole process.”
How long to undergo acupuncture for fertility
Acupunturist Laura Schultz, L.Ac. recommends starting acupuncture and fertility treatment at least three months before a couple wants to conceive, since it takes around three months for both sperm and egg to mature to the point of viability.
“Other than that, it really depends on what’s going on with the couple,” she says. “Conditions like endometriosis, diminished ovarian reserve, and PCOS will typically take longer to treat. Treatment can be upwards of one to two years, which may seem like a really long time, especially if you’ve already been trying for a year or more.”
It may seem daunting at the outset, but Schultz asks patients to be just that—patient.
“I try to encourage my patients to remember that although time is passing on the calendar, their body is actually moving backwards through time, becoming more healthy and more vital the longer they stick to their treatment plan,” she points out.
What to know if you struggle with fertility
For couples struggling with fertility, Ms. Williams offers a piece of advice.
“Don’t let anyone dictate how fertile or infertile you are—not a doctor, not a test, and definitely not a diagnosis,” she emphasizes. “Infertility is a label we tend to slap on women way too often, when sometimes the body just needs a little extra help or some extra time to get ready for the whole experience. And having another diagnosis like PCOS, endometriosis, or fibroids is again just a label; it does not mean you cannot heal and have a healthy pregnancy. Every acupuncturist knows that people defy those odds your doctor gave you, everyday.”