Rick has over 17 years’ experience providing support treatments for pregnancy, IVF, preparation for labour and Post-partum care and women’s health. He specializes in pregnancy acupuncture and herbal medicine, assisting women with a variety of pregnancy-related issues. Our goal is to assist you to achieve a safe natural birth.
We are working with patients who try to conceive naturally; preparing and supporting the effectiveness of IVF. We recommend that you begin treatment 3 months prior to your IVF cycle as this is the cycle of egg development .
Preparing to conceive – a healthy diet
There is much information and misinformation about what constitutes a good preconception diet. From a Chinese medicine point of view the middle road is usually the healthiest where moderation of some foods is recommended and a good balance of healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables with adequate protein is encouraged. Rick takes into account the different constitution and situation of each individual before dietary advice is given.
A properly functioning digestive system is an important focus of treatment, so that nutrients are absorbed and utilised well. If there are any digestive issues such as bloating, bowel disorders, reflux, cravings or low appetite these can be treated effectively with acupuncture.
Preparing to conceive – weight loss
A little bit of weight loss goes a long way to improving fertility. Losing 5 kg is a manageable target for most and you can start now. Just moving your metabolism a little bit in the direction of burning off fat stores, can stimulate ovarian activity, improve egg and sperm quality and increase fertility.
Acupuncture is used to reduce your appetite and improve your metabolism. An analysis of your constitution and the reasons for your weight gain by an experienced acupuncturist will lead to an individualised treatment plan designed to maximise weight loss. Gentle electro acupuncture applied to points on the body promotes lipolytic activity (destruction of fat cells) to reduce fat accumulation.
Using acupuncture points on the ear stimulates the auricular branch of the vagal nerve and raises serotonin levels, both of which increase tone in the smooth muscle of the stomach, thus suppressing appetite.
Preparing to conceive – egg quality
The environment that eggs occupy during their lengthy maturation process in the ovary has an impact on what shape they are in before meeting a sperm (with or without an IVF embryologist in attendance). They need a good blood supply, the right nutrients, the right hormone signals and the capacity to supply enough energy to the embryo.
This has important implications, particularly for eggs that are coming from slightly older ovaries (and possibly for eggs coming from women with PCOS or endometriosis). While no treatment can turn back the clock, or change the DNA, acupuncture and herbs can be used to rejuvenate some oocyte characteristics by improving delivery of nutrition to the developing egg and enhancing its capacity to make energy thus increasing its chance of making a viable embryo.
Preparing to conceive – sperm quality
Many clinical trials in several countries have demonstrated the benefit of acupuncture to sperm quality (references). This is particularly the case where there is low motility or high numbers of abnormal forms. Acupuncture is applied to the abdomen and the lower legs according to research protocols and your individual constitution. Mild electroacupuncture has been shown to increase blood flow through the small blood vessels of the testes, improving delivery of nutrients to developing sperm and promoting optimal sperm vitality. Thus acupuncture can be used as part of a pre-conception programme even where there is a normal semen analysis.
Preparing to conceive – a regular menstrual cycle
One of the things mentioned a lot in a Chinese medicine gynecology textbook, including the Fertility chapter, is the term “Regulating the Cycle”. What this refers to is the ideal of a 28 day menstrual cycle (give or take a few days), and a regular ovulation occurring around the middle of that cycle. This is one of the first aims of much TCM treatment of gynecological disorders. A regular menstrual cycle is an indication of good ovary function and good hormone balance.
Preparing to conceive – immune factors
Implantation of the embryo in the uterus is a vital and pivotal event which determines the success of an ongoing pregnancy after conception, or after transfer of an embryo in an IVF cycle.
Recently the crucial role that the immune system plays in the process of implantation and the development of the placenta has been elucidated. A positive finding of immune factors like anti-cardiolipin antibodies, anti- thyroid antibodies or anti-nuclear antibodies can indicate that there may be subtle imbalances in the immune environment of the uterus which are not conducive to establishing a healthy pregnancy. Acupuncture has proven effects on modulating immune function possibly through its ability to increase endorphins and other neurotransmitters.
Preparing to conceive – PCOS
Women with PCOS, particularly those with irregular or infrequent periods, have their own particular challenges when it comes to conceiving. We don’t yet fully understand the causes of PCOS however we do know that certain acupuncture protocols can reduce some of the factors that operate to prevent polycystic ovaries working properly. For example acupuncture reduces testosterone and LH (luteinising hormone) levels which promotes the conditions for more frequent ovulation and better quality eggs. (references)
If you have PCOS and are trying to conceive naturally or planning to do IVF, you can benefit from doing a course of acupuncture over 3 to 4 months to improve ovary function and egg quality. For those PCOS patients who do IVF, certain acupuncture protocols during the stimulation phase and after embryo transfer will reduce the risk of hyperstimulation.
Low intensity gentle electro-acupuncture is applied to points on the abdomen and the legs.
Preparing to conceive – endometriosis
Endometriosis reduces fertility by damaging ovary function (AMH is reduced) and negatively impacting the immune milieu (inflammatory cytokines are raised) and affecting the lining of the uterus and its implantation sites. Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective treatment for reducing the symptoms of endometriosis and for improving fertility and Chinese herbs have been shown to improve response to IVF drugs and pregnancy rates in endometriosis patients.
Acupuncture is most effective when performed at specific times of your menstrual cycle. These will be decided in conjunction with your practitioner and will depend on your symptom picture and whether you are actively trying to conceive.
Preparing to conceive – fibroids, polyps and cysts
Obstructions to implantation, such as polyps or fibroids, are often removed surgically. In the case that surgery is not desired, and fibroids are not large, then chinese herbal medicine can be used to shrink them. Ovarian cysts are also amenable to treatment with chinese herbs, and any pain or cycle irregularity they cause can be treated with acupuncture.
Preparing to conceive – stress management
Stress, for most of us living and working in modern cities, is part of life. However it can get a lot worse when you are not conceiving as easily as you thought you would. And in a cruel vicious cycle, stress can have a negative impact on fertility. Women who are more stressed have reduced fertility, and during IVF procedures have lower embryo implantation rates. Stress has also been shown to affect semen quality. This is why we do specific acupuncture treatments at particular times of the IVF cycle.
Acupuncture is well known as an excellent stress reduction therapy. Its ability to raise endorphin levels and reduce adrenalin and cortisol levels allows the body and mind to relax immediately and learn a different way of being. Our patients frequently comment on how relaxed they feel after their treatments and that they don’t know how they would cope without that support.
Preparing to conceive – sleep quality
The connection between sleep and fertility is not always self evident, although getting to bed early with your partner may for some couples have obvious benefits.
You may not realise that the quality and quantity of your sleep influences sex hormones, sperm production, ovulation, immune factors, weight gain, mood, stress levels and longevity as well as the more obvious stamina.
Getting enough good quality sleep is an essential part of preparing for conception for all these reasons. Acupuncture has a proven track record (reviewed in several medical journals) of assisting to establish sound sleep patterns.
Preparing to conceive together
It takes two and this stressful journey is traveled more easily when the two of you do it together, supporting each other. Whether it is unexplained infertility, male factor or ovarian issues, focusing on improving general health and the health of the gametes on both sides often provides the solution when nothing else is working. Many of the couples we have treated have voiced an appreciation of the emotional and psychological benefits they experience when they come for treatments together.
Acupuncture to prepare for frozen embryo transfer
Many IVF clinics like to transfer embryos into a natural environment. Embryos that have been frozen and successfully thawed are transferred back into a uterus in its natural state at exactly the right time for implantation. Using electro-stimulation on acupuncture points on the abdomen in the months and weeks before the transfer, has been shown to improve the structure of the uterine lining, and significantly enhance the implantation and pregnancy rate.
Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer (including frozen embryo transfer)
These treatments are based on protocols used in clinical trials which showed that an increase in pregnancy rates in some groups of women (those for whom the expected pregnancy rate is 30% or less). (You can find the references for these trials here)
Schedule: a – before or after transfer …… one treatment
b – before and after transfer …… two treatments
Acupuncture at any phase of the IVF cycle
Acupuncture can be used to manage any side effects you might experience and reduce anxiety. These treatment protocols are based on the clinical experience of many acupuncturists and their patients. Reduced fatigue, moodiness, abdomen swelling and discomfort and other side effects are reported by many women using acupuncture during their IVF cycle. In addition women report greater relaxation and control of anxiety (reference). The acupuncture treatment will be different for each patient and depends on your symptoms.
Acupuncture after egg collection
IVF patients are recommended to have an acupuncture treatment the day or two after egg collection, to reduce any local tissue trauma or bleeding, and help prepare a calm environment for the arrival of an embryo. This treatment can be combined with Schedule 2 or 3 above.