Photo: iStock Photo
After trying to get pregnant for three months, Nicole Musial’s friend suggested she try acupuncture to help boost her fertility. Eager to move the process along, Musial started seeing a registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and acupuncturist once a cycle. At each appointment, she would have a brief chat with her acupuncturist, then lie on a treatment table as the needles were painlessly inserted into various spots on her body. The acupuncturist would then dim the lights and leave the room, and Musial would fall asleep. Musial found the treatments relaxing and meditative—and she got pregnant three months later.
Musial believes it wasn’t just the acupuncture itself that helped but the conversations she had with the practitioner, who helped Musial make other health and wellness changes with the goal of getting a positive pregnancy test. “She opened my eyes to things I wouldn’t have even considered, like my stress levels, tips for starting my day, and some dietary suggestions.” While she can’t pinpoint how, Musial feels that the changes she made played a part in helping her get pregnant.
While many people will share similar experiences of how acupuncture helped them get pregnant, there’s no conclusive evidence that acupuncture treatments will increase fertility. What acupuncture can do, though, is help calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is the system responsible for your fight or flight response, says Mary Wong, registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, acupuncturist and founder of ALIVE Holistic Health Clinic in Toronto. In other words, acupuncture may benefit those who are experiencing stress.
Jeffrey Roberts, OB/GYN and co-director of Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Burnaby, BC, says this could offer some benefits to those who are trying to conceive. “There’s some evidence out there that reducing stress may provide higher pregnancy rates,” he says.
According to Roberts, his clients who use acupuncture do so to help keep emotional balance in their lives while they’re undergoing delicate and complicated fertility procedures that can bring on a great deal of stress. “In the case of IVF, I have to get an embryo in a very specific location at the top of the uterus, and obviously most of those patients are quite stressed with the process.” Roberts says it’s beneficial to both him and his patient to be as relaxed as possible, and well-timed treatments may help achieve this.
While studies regarding acupuncture’s effects on fertility have not shown a clear benefit, they also haven’t shown any harm, so patients who are interested in trying it are encouraged to do so. Roberts agrees that there is no risk to giving acupuncture a try and says that many practitioners even provide their patients with a level of psychological support that they can’t get from their doctor because of time constraints. “Our appointments are short. We’re not as good at addressing the stress side of things,” he admits. Acupuncturists can also counsel fertility patients to make lifestyle changes, like losing weight, that can help them get pregnant.
If you’re feeling keen to give acupuncture a go, the ideal time to start might be about three to four months before trying to get pregnant, says Wong. That’s when the body is nurturing the egg, getting it ready to be released.
Roberts says that while there’s no evidence that acupuncture can improve egg quality, if treatments help a patient reduce stress levels then they may be worth pursuing. “If they can be relaxed on the day I put the embryo back, then we’re in good shape.”