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 help to prepare the mind and body for IVF treatment. Please note that I recommend that patients stop taking herbal medicine one week before they start taking their IVF medication to avoid any possible interactions. Ideally I recommend a three-month period of treatment leading up to an IVF cycle to ensure that we have sufficient time to prepare the body 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.
- 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.
- Stimulation: During this phase of treatment drugs are administered by the clinic to stimulate the ovaries to produce as many follicles as possible. Acupuncture can help to enhance the body’s response and thicken the endometrium. If you appear to be overstimulating in response to your medication (which is more likely to happen if you suffer from PCOS), acupuncture can be used to calm the body and avoid cancellation of a cycle.
- Egg Collection: Acupuncture at the time of egg collection is very useful, as it calms the mind during the anxious waiting period before transfer and assists the body’s healing process after the procedure.
- Embryo Transfer: Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer has been shown to increase pregnancy rates. I 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.
- Post-Transfer: In certain cases I recommend a gentle treatment to help patients through the “two week wait’.
“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)