I have treated many couples undergoing Assisted Reproductive Techniques (including treatment with ovulation induction, IUI (intrauterine insemination), IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) in a variety of circumstances including same-sex couples, donor eggs, donor sperm and surrogates and I have repeatedly seen the positive impact that acupuncture can have at this difficult and stressful time. There is no doubt in my mind that acupuncture and IVF in combination can offer an extremely effective treatment for couples struggling with infertility.
Each acupuncturist has their own way of working, but I recommend the following based on published research and my experience of what seems to work best for patients:
Before IVF treatment begins: Consistent acupuncture and, if required, herbal medicine can be an excellent preparation before the start of IVF treatment. Ideally I recommend a three-month period of treatment leading up to an IVF cycle to ensure that we have sufficient time to prepare and correct any underlying issues before the IVF cycle begins, particularly where the patient is over 35 and/or has had previously unsuccessful attempts at IVF. Please note that I recommend that patients stop taking herbal medicine at least one week before they begin the medication prescribed in their IVF protocol to avoid any possible interactions.
Down-regulation: This is the phase of treatment in a “long protocol” IVF cycle where patients are given medication by their doctor to suppress their natural hormones and allow for greater control over the treatment cycle. Acupuncture can moderate any uncomfortable side-effects of the down-regulating medication, such as hot flushes, irritability, anxiety, disturbed sleep and excessive thirst and sweating and also help to support the patient emotionally.
Stimulation: During this phase of treatment medication will be prescribed by your clinic to stimulate the ovaries to produce as many ovarian follicles as possible. Acupuncture can help to complement the body’s response and thicken the endometrium. A 2012 meta-analysis of research found that acupuncture administered during the ovarian stimulation phase significantly increased clinical pregnancy rates and live birth rates and this increase was greater than if acupuncture was only given on the day of embryo transfer. Some acupuncture protocols during stimulation may also help to increase endometrial thickness. I do not give a treatment in the 36 hours between administering your trigger injection and egg (oocyte) collection.
Egg Collection: I find that acupuncture between egg collection and embryo transfer can be very useful, as it calms the mind during the anxious waiting period before transfer and if you are suffering from mild to moderate OHSS can be very useful to counteract some of the unpleasant symptoms you might be experiencing. Please note that any symptoms of OHSS should always be reported immediately to your clinic and monitored closely.
Embryo Transfer: Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer has been shown to increase pregnancy rates. I usually follow the protocols used in a randomised controlled trial carried out in Germany in 2002 which found that a pregnancy rate of 42.5% was achieved when acupuncture was carried out on the day of embryo transfer, compared to a pregnancy rate of 26.3% when women did not receive acupuncture on the day of transfer. For a variety of reasons it is not always possible to have a treatment on the day of transfer (although I always try my best to see a patient on the day or refer to a colleague) and it is important to remember that in the German research mentioned above patients had not had the benefit of acupuncture prior to the date of transfer.
Post-Transfer: In certain cases I recommend a gentle treatment to help patients through the “two week wait’, particularly, if there is a history of several previous failed cycles, but, as a general rule I do not treat during this phase of treatment.
“My whole experience with Olivia was an incredibly positive one, not only did I get pregnant with twins that are now 11 days old but I really felt that she did everything in her power to make it happen. She was always at the end of the phone or email to answer any questions and fit in appointments at short notice. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have got pregnant without Olivia’s help. I am forever in her debt.” (Nicky)
If you are interested in finding out more about Fertility Acupuncture in Surrey please contact Olivia Shaw.