ACUPUNCTURE FOR FERTILITY
Acupuncture as a healing modality has been practiced in China and other Eastern countries for over 3,000 years. It is an ancient science that uses micro-fine needles to work with the system of meridians that flow through our bodies. Qi (pronounced “chee”), translating to mean our our life force or energy, moves through our meridians and is thought to flow like rivers through the body. Naturally, just like any point along a river, certain points along the meridians will clog-up, become stagnant and thus it's current may weaken - Ancient Chinese medicine practitioners believe that when this happens, the body cannot self-initiate healing regulations to stay healthy, thus malaise ensues.
So what has this got to do with fertility?
The therapeutic insertion of these very fine, painless needles into the acupuncture points mobilises the flow of Qi through the meridians: Acupuncture essentially moves energy and blood. The needles are gently inserted into carefully selected points on the channels of the body's meridians to provoke an ‘unclogging’ of that specific 'inner river', or meridian. In the case of acupuncture for fertility, this primarily translates to an increase of blood flow to the reproductive organs. A treatment can be orientated to flush energy and blood flow to the uterus, which improves the thickness of the endometrial lining and thus increases the chances of embryo implantation.
Acupuncture improves circulation and a fertility treatment can bring blood to the ovaries, balance hormones and reduce the fertility-inhibiting kind of inflammation that accumulates as a result of stress of hormones. For example, stress' affect on the nervous system has been shown to constrict the ovarian arteries; a symptom that acupuncture can directly address by inhibiting this very activity in improving blood flow to the ovaries. In this way, acupuncture can also help to enhance the environment in which ovarian follicles develop.
Acupuncture can also help to counteract the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): one of the most common causes of female infertility. Acupuncture reduces sympathetic nerve activity and balances hormone levels, which as result reduces the number of ovarian cysts, stimulates ovulation, enhances blastocyst implantation and regulates the menstrual cycle in women with PCOS.
Which meridian is related to the reproductive organs and where are the "trigger points" for fertility?
According to ancient knowledge, the specific acupuncture (or acupressure) points on the body are areas where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated to produce specific physiological effects. Additionally, and maybe more importantly, it is also where a person’s qi, or life force, can be accessed as well.
A fun, safe and free place to start with meridian discovery and trigger point exploration is acupressure. Once you have discerned specific points (see a mini guide below, but totally consult a medical professional first if you’re concerned), apply direct palpating finger pressure to each area. The pressure should be strong enough that if feels like a good type of sore sensation, but never too painful. You’ll then want to provide a firm, steady pressure to each point for about 3-6 breaths, release and repeat 3-5 times before moving to the next point. Don't go overboard, and start with just a couple of points before building up familiarity with the practice.
Usually to help circulation - i.e. increase blood flow to the ovaries - one consults the liver meridian. Here is an example of a potent fertility point on the liver meridian:
- Liver 3 - This point is located on the dorsum of the foot (top side), in the webbing between the first and second toe. This point helps regulate the menstrual cycle, benefits the ovaries and uterus, helps build the blood, and also helps with headaches, stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
The spleen and kidney meridians are the other energy currents one seeks to become acquainted with in acupuncture for fertility, as they help to boost the whole reproductive system. A lot of their prime points cluster near, or just above, the ankle bone. The two points listed below are regarded to be the most powerful and accessible, although other great points run up the inside of the leg and knee: Around the inside of the knee you find points for the blood, aiding the menstrual flow and treating cramps.
- Spleen 6 - This point is located on the inner part of the lower leg, about four finger-widths above the inner ankle. This is a widely used point for regulating the menstrual cycle and boosting fertility. It also benefits the uterus and ovaries. It’s also useful in calming the mind, so it is also useful with anxiety/stress and insomnia. Avoid use of this point in the luteal phase of the cycle if actively trying to conceive and avoid with pregnancy.
Kidney 9 - This point is known as the ‘beautiful baby’ point and is said that when it is used it will help produce a beautiful baby. The location is on the lower part of the inner leg, about a third of the way between the inner ankle and inner knee. It helps calm the mind, so is useful with anxiety and fear. It also helps to build the blood in the body.
Further still, in seeking to improve nutrition to the reproductive system, a holistic approach needs to be adopted and thereby we need to ameliorate the energetic nutrition of the whole body. Stomach meridian points can be particularly potent for this task, along with classic stress-busting points; a couple of examples of the most nutri-active points are as follows:
- Yin Tang - This point is located in between the eyebrows at the ‘third eye’ location. It is a very useful point for stress, anxiety and insomnia. If you also need help focusing, it’s a great point to stimulate for this as well.
- Stomach 36 - This point is located below the kneecap, about one finger breadth lateral to the boney edge of your shin bone (tibia). This is a wonderful point to build your vital life force (qi) and your blood. It is a particularly great point to stimulate for women over 35 trying to conceive as it benefits the Kidney yin. And, it is also a point that can help ‘calm the spirit’ or balance emotions.
All sounds great but palpating and needles sound creepy...
Don't panic at the word "needle", sometimes you may feel a dull ache from an acupuncture needle indicating activation of the desired point, but these sensations are not painful. In fact, acupuncture is the renowned opposite of painful - Treatment can be so relaxing that many clients fall asleep during treatment (I have before!), waking up feeling utterly rejuvenated, fully de-stressed and absolutely healthful.
To take away
The modern stress and anxiety epidemic makes for a great way to measure the successful effects of acupuncture. For example, notably, acupuncture is now incorporated into NHS services.
If you choose to undergo an acupuncture for fertility treatment, it should traditionally be tailored to the four phases of your menstrual cycle (Follicular Development, Follicular Maturity and Ovulation, the Luteal Phase and finally the Atrophy of the Corpus Luteum) so expect four or five treatments over the course of your cycle (classically 28-32 days).
Naturally, it’s important to find an acupuncturist who specialises in fertility. Whilst we're not preaching that acupuncture can be solely responsible for your successful journey to fertility, we are offering praise for an Eastern healing modality that can increase the efficacy of assistive reproductive techniques. Eastern medicine itself takes different approach to Western medicine: it’s holistic. In Eastern wellbeing philosophy, the root of the problem tends to be directly addressed, as opposed to a symptom being attended to with prescription medication, as typically practised in the West.