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Benefits of Acupuncture for Conception

Jessica Joseph, RN, BSN, MHA
May 20, 2023
Acupuncture needles alongside herbs and holistic remedies
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Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific trigger points in the body to activate self-healing. Individuals seeking to get pregnant, with or without fertility treatment, report benefits with acupuncture and pregnancy outcomes.  


Guided Fertility™ interviewed Christina M. Burns, OMD, L.Ac, FABORM, for her professional standpoints on acupuncture for fertility.  Dr. Burns is board certified in oriental reproductive medicine and has advanced certifications in acupuncture, herbs, nutrition, life coaching, and yoga therapy.  She founded Naturna, a holistic treatment center in Manhattan that offers nutritional and lifestyle counseling, acupuncture, customized herbal supplements, and mind/body counseling.

Who are candidates for acupuncture for fertility?


There are no set guidelines and typically no contraindications (based on disease) for acupuncture treatment. Therefore, anyone seeking to enhance their chances of getting pregnant, with or without other fertility treatments, can do acupuncture.


Acupuncture improves overall health by helping the body's hormonal balance, eliminating excess estrogen levels, detoxifying the body, lowering insulin and blood sugar levels, decreasing inflammation, and generating blood circulation. 


I would say the only contraindication for acupuncture is for people who have legitimate fear over treatment.  


Can acupuncture help you get pregnant without interventions?


Acupuncture is not helpful in structural anomalies that prevent conception, such as blocked fallopian tubes.  In general, it can help couples conceive without added interventions.  Some couples prefer less invasive methods, instead of advanced treatment such as IVF.  I have helped couples conceive that have done numerous unsuccessful IVF cycles by reviewing the fundamentals: fertility nutrition, anti-inflammation lifestyle, acupuncture, supplements, and herbs.  Many patients have become pregnant with acupuncture therapy alone (without tandem fertility treatment).


How many sessions do you need before you can get pregnant with acupuncture on average?


This is highly individualized and based on a multitude of factors.  Some of my patients need two months, and others need six months.  According to research on successful fertility outcomes, most patients benefit from twelve bi-weekly sessions. However, acupuncture can be a commitment in terms of time, resources, and finances. Therefore, a compromise of once a week is usually accommodated to make it more conducive for patients.


Any less than once a week is more of a booster. With acupuncture, we are working on repatterning the body and changing the physiology, similar to pressing a reset button. This, in turn, lowers inflammation, increases circulation, and the body starts developing a different pattern of function. So, if acupuncture is done less than once a week, it may be challenging to maintain the long-term therapeutic benefits.


What fertility-related conditions can acupuncture treat?


Acupuncture treats many conditions that can cause infertility in women, such as PCOS, endometriosis, and thin uterine lining.  It can also decrease symptoms of these conditions, such as reducing inflammation and pain for women with endometriosis and promoting ovulation for women with PCOS.   


For women undergoing fertility treatments, acupuncture can enhance uterine receptivity.  Over a more extended period, such as six months, it's good for egg quality and ovarian reserve. For my patients who have undergone acupuncture and IVF, we have seen improvements in AMH levels. 


For women who were previously poor responders with IVF hormone injections, after acupuncture, they were able to recruit at least 4-7 follicles.  Chinese herbal medicine has proven stronger than acupuncture for cases of low ovarian reserve. Remember that this is mostly anecdotal since no extensive studies support this data.


What does acupuncture do for men?


Studies found improvements in sperm parameters for men who have undergone acupuncture.   Based on the semen sample provided for IVF cycles, men who did two sessions of acupuncture a week for five weeks saw improvements in sperm quantity, movement, and shape, leading to better embryo quality.

What should I expect at my acupuncture appointment?


Every practitioner is different, and it is a subjective experience for both the practitioner and the patient. For my sessions, I do a comprehensive intake that involves reviewing the patient’s medical history, educating and counseling patients, and reviewing nutrition and sleep patterns. In addition, I assist patients with accountability and provide guidance if they want to see improvement in a particular direction.


In terms of the actual treatment, I have them change into a gown and lie on a table. I cleanse the area with alcohol swabs and gently insert the needles.  Since I deal with women undergoing hormone injections and might be anxious due to the nature of fertility cycles, I make it as gentle as possible.  After the needles are inserted, I have them continue to lie down for twenty-five minutes and provide a relaxing environment by playing spa music. 


In conjunction with acupuncture, I sometimes perform moxibustion, which is another Chinese therapy good for fertility and can also be a stand-alone treatment.  It involves a specific type of sage being burned at certain points. Besides helping with fertility, there are also documented studies that it can help pregnant women with babies in the breach position.  Studies have found it can turn 60% of breach babies.  For men, moxibustion can enhance sperm parameters.  Other indications for moxibustion include reducing inflammation and helping with pregnancy nausea.


What are the success rates for acupuncture and fertility?


Based on a meta-analysis study on embryo transfers, there was a twenty percent improvement for women who had acupuncture treatment performed.  The study indicated that the control group had 26% embryo implantation rates, and the acupuncture group had 46% embryo implantation rates. 


Bear in mind that acupuncture is an individualized approach. Practitioners trigger different acupuncture points depending on what the patient presents with.  As a result, it can be hard to determine success rates based on the number of variables involved.


It is also age dependent; for example, women in their thirties may only need two treatments to get pregnant, whereas women in their forties may need a longer duration of therapy, such as six to eight months, to achieve pregnancy.



When selecting an acupuncturist, what qualifications should they meet?


Patients should select an acupuncturist based on their training, credentials, and referrals. In terms of training, it is ideal to find a practitioner with advanced training in reproductive medicine.  I recommend using the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM) website.  In most states, acupuncturists have to be licensed to practice. 


Women undergoing fertility treatment can also ask their fertility center for a recommendation.   Or if they have a friend or family member who has had a positive experience with an acupuncturist, that could also be a good referral source.


When screening an acupuncturist, make sure they can speak to the phases of a woman’s cycle, how hormones work, how female physiology works, and their needling style.  Good practitioners are realistic and will be upfront if their needling style is known to be painful.  Ultimately you want to match with a good provider to avoid traumatization.

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