TLDR: Acupuncture, the practice of applying needles in strategic points to treat pain and various ailments, can also be used for fertility. An acupuncturist discusses the benefits of the treatment for women who are trying to get pregnant, including its impact on digestion and blood flow, and what you should look for in an acupuncturist.
At eight weeks pregnant, I could just about crawl to the acupuncture office down the street from my New York City apartment. I had been in the throes of morning sickness for weeks and was desperate for any relief I could find. So I (somehow) made my way over, opened the door, climbed up on the brown chair, and looked at the acupuncturist sitting in front of me in utter helplessness.
Luckily, she welcomed me with open arms. She asked me about my symptoms, sympathized with my experience, and made me feel like maybe, just maybe, I would feel normal again.
After our consultation, she took me into the back room to receive treatment. As I walked through the archway, I was immediately welcomed with a serene atmosphere. A fluffy comfortable white bed, soothing instrumental music, and not even a tinge of a scent to set off my nausea. It. Was. Heaven.
As I lay there, supported by the surface beneath me, the acupuncturist explained what she was doing and why, as she gently placed needles in my feet, stomach, arms, and hands.
She then left me there, for an entire 30 minutes. Laying there, I settled into a state that I could only describe as meditative. I felt completely relaxed, yet alert. And I felt like I could feel myself healing and rejuvenating from the inside out.
When my treatment was over I felt restored. This experience left me both in awe of this ancient healing practice and completely intrigued by how and why it works.
Acupuncture has been around for over 2,500 years, and though it’s not clear how exactly it works, there is evidence that acupuncture affects the nervous system1 and can relieve pain. It’s safe for use for pregnant women2 and those who are trying to get pregnant.
“I recommend acupuncture to all of my patients during their fertility journey,” says Dr. Spencer Richlin3 , a reproductive endocrinologist and partner at Illume Fertility. “Those struggling with polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, diminished ovarian reserve, and other fertility issues see a positive impact from regular acupuncture sessions. Research even points to increased IVF pregnancy rates for those who undergo acupuncture before and after an embryo transfer.”
Acupuncture has so many uses for women in their fertility journey that I wanted to know more, so I reached out to Dr. Jill Blakeway, acupuncturist and founder of The Yinova Center4 , to learn everything there is to know about acupuncture and fertility.
How Does Acupuncture Impact Fertility?
Dr. Jill Blakeway: We use acupuncture to do very specific things like bring blood to the uterus to resource a good endometrial lining, or to help resource the ovaries so that they produce a good follicle and therefore a healthy egg. We use it to reduce inflammation too. But we also use it more generally, like for the emotional aspects of trying to conceive and for treating other physical aspects that could be impacting your fertility, like digestion.
When Should You Start Acupuncture Treatments for Fertility?
JB: In a perfect world, I’d see people before they get pregnant, whether they have had problems or not. I believe healthy bodies have healthy babies and healthy couples have healthy babies. So I like to use Chinese medicine to get people “in shape” to get pregnant. One of the things I tell people is if you are not getting pregnant and if your doctor has told you that they have no idea why you're not getting pregnant, then Chinese medicine may be a good next step.
Are There Specific Times During Your Cycle You Should Get Acupuncture?
JB: I prefer to see people once a week, and I like to build rhythm with a patient. I take them through their cycle, get a ton of information from watching their cycle closely, and then I use that information the next month to adapt the treatment. I tell patients that if they aren’t able to come weekly, coming in just before ovulation and just before their menses is the way to do it.
Is There Anywhere You Shouldn’t Get Acupuncture if You’re Trying To Conceive?
JB: Some points should not be used for pregnancy and fertility; for example, we don't do points on the lower abdomen after ovulation, or at least after implantation. I think if you find someone who is used to practicing acupuncture and fertility medicine, they will not be doing points that are unsafe for pregnant you.
What Questions Should You Ask Your Acupuncturist if You’re Trying To Conceive?
JB: First, you should find a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist and herbalist. I think for fertility, it's important to find someone who is also an herbalist. We use herbs a lot in fertility medicine to affect hormones, and that must be done safely. I would also find someone whose style you resonate with and who has experience in fertility medicine.
I would like women to know that it's not painful. I know it sounds scary, having needles put in you, but most of my patients fall asleep during acupuncture treatment because they get this little endorphin release and they feel relaxed. Acupuncture can induce a very meditative sleep, even a creative kind of sleep, that’s beneficial for problem-solving.