If, like me, you’ve been trying to conceive for a while, you’ve probably read something about acupuncture. Almost every internet search on aiding fertility will throw up results on this ancient Chinese practice. But can paying someone to stick needles in you really bring you closer to your baby dream? If you’ve never tried it, you’re probably sceptical, right? Especially as the service doesn’t exactly come cheap…But the figures speak for themselves. When used in conjunction with Western fertility treatments, it can boost conception rates by 26%, according to a recent study from Tel Aviv University. Medical research suggests it helps by increasing blood flow to the ovaries and uterus (creating a more hospitable environment for an egg to be nourished) and by helping to balance your hormones.
I’m six months away from fertility intervention, but I decided to see a Zita West-trained acupuncture practitioner to boost my chances of conceiving naturally in the meantime. I’ve been doing weekly acupuncture sessions for several months now and I’ve gotta say, I really look forward to that hour every week. Each session starts with a brief chat about what’s been going on in my body that week, what stage of my cycle I’m at, any pains, unusual symptoms etc. Then I move to the acupuncture table (like a massage table but with more big cushions and blankets). Depending on the time of the month, my practitioner then puts disposable sterile needles in several points around my body (stomach, head, ankles, lower calves, hands). You may feel a slight pinch as some of the needles go in, but once they are in, you can hardly feel them. The lights are lowered, the meditation music is on, and she then reads to me one of a series of relaxation/visualisation exercises while I zone out and relax. It might sound simple enough but there are so many layers to what I get out of it. Here, are the top six reasons why I keep coming back:
- It’s empowering me with knowledge
My practitioner is extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of fertility, both from an eastern and western perspective, so I am learning something new every week. She listens and offers advice on everything from the fertility investigations I’m having (even helping me decode mind-boggling blood results and my husband’s sperm results) to lifestyle factors that can help at different stages of my cycle (for example getting enough sleep after ovulation etc). She also explains exactly what points she is placing the needles and why, so I can really visualise what is going on. For example, pre-ovulation she will hook the needles on my stomach up to a machine and send a small pulse through them to get the blood pumping around my reproductive organs. In the few months I’ve been going I already feel I know so much more about fertility and reproduction. And knowledge is power, right?
- I’m learning to recognise changes in my body
With thermometers and ovulation kits filling the shelves, it easy to get into the habit of relying on science rather than nature to tell you what is going on in your own body. Acupuncture has helped me reconnect with my own body and tune in to what is going on. I must admit, at first I did find it a bit icky talking about period blood and mucus with a relative stranger but when you know what to look for and get into the habit of spotting changes, it becomes second nature. I now know what colour my blood should be (bright red), what consistency my mucus should be around ovulation (egg white), and I am on red alert (excuse the pun) for any unusual changes. She has encouraged me to visualise my womb as a ripe, juicy raspberry (?!), and imagine the blood flowing towards it, which might sound a bit odd, but once you can imagine your reproductive system, not as something alien and science-y, but as something lovely and natural, you come a step closer to connecting with it.
- It helps me de-stress
One of the main ways acupuncture helps fertility is that it reduces stress, which is often a key factor in fertility. Everything about the hour I spend at acupuncture each week is conducive to relaxation. From the low-lighting to the candles and sounds of waves crashing against the shore, not to mention the cushion and blankets that I’m cocooned in for the 40 minutes of so the needles are in, it’s enough to make you nod off into a peaceful slumber – and a lot of the time, I do just that. Like most people, I’m run ragged all week at work but it’s become so important to me to take the hour out of my week to chill out and de-stress. One of my favourite relaxation exercises features the words, ‘Nobody wants anything; nobody needs anything. This is your time…’ and it’s a powerful reminder to get off the wheel and take the time just to breathe.
- It gives me hope
At every session, my practitioner reminds me that I will get pregnant, it’s just a question of when. By helping me combat negative thought patterns, she has helped me overcome some serious mental stumbling blocks. One example she gave me was of a client who was convinced she’d have trouble conceiving. When my practitioner asked her why, she said it was because her mother had trouble and had always told her that she too would find it difficult. Once the practitioner was able to help the client overcome those negative thought patterns, she conceived naturally within a few months. The mind is a very powerful force and acupuncture had taught me the importance of staying positive and remaining hopeful.
- I’ve become more clued up on diet
Since I’ve been seeing my acupuncturist, I gleaned so much diet and lifestyle advice that has helped me make positive changes. I’ve learned to adapt my diet to the changing seasons, eating plenty of warming soups and stews now the weather is cooler, and enjoying salads and juices in the summer months. She’s also given me advice on what supplements to take (Omega 3, CoQ10, B-Complex and Magnesium), and provided me with a comprehensive list of the essentials nutrients for fertility, and the foods that contain them. For the first time in my life, I’m counting nutrients, not calories and I feel so much better for it.
- I’m focussed on the bigger picture
Whereas western medicine treats one targeted problem, eastern medicine takes a more holistic approach. Fertility clinics will focus on one end goal: getting you pregnant, which is great if it’s a success but it doesn’t take into account all the factors that will have contributed to you having difficulty trying to conceive in the first place. If you don’t address the root of the problem, chances are you’ll have trouble again if and when you try for your second. Acupuncture treats the body as a whole and looks at all the different factors that might have a bearing on your fertility: stress, hormones, under-lying auto-immune disorders etc. The work that you do with your practitioner in balancing your hormones and addressing stress will not only help you achieve your goal of becoming pregnant, but it will stand you in good stead for subsequent pregnancies and even into menopause. I’ve come to realise that the journey doesn’t end when you get pregnant, it’s a life-long journey and the more you do to achieve a balance in your body now, the more prepared you’ll be for what’s to come in the future.