“Will acupuncture help me get pregnant?”
In a nutshell, the answer is “Yes“… …and “No“.
Please read on if you like the dualistic nature of this answer…
Which leaves you hanging in the same no-mans land that you will no doubt be familiar with if, as a couple, you have not had any luck conceiving. And have begun to wonder why you spent so many years being so very careful….
If I had a dollar bill for all the times I have been asked this question I would set about resolving world poverty with some chance of success! In any event, the point is that there is a lot of interest in acupuncture for Fertility or rather Infertility.
A good proportion of this comes from the marketing efforts of an industry which has happily identified a (not so) niche target group, and is merrily shaping itself to fit the need. Some of it comes from people who have been through the process of endless exams and probings only to be told:
“There is nothing specific wrong with you. This will now cost you a small fortune, would you like me to recommend a good broker to remortgage your house?“.
Who said the best things in life are free!?
I hate to burst this (financially lucrative and overexploited) bubble, but the tiny prick of an acupuncture needle is not going to bring about the immaculate conception. There is a little something more involved in this process.
There are some basic (by this I mean ‘fundamental’ rather than ‘simple’) things that need to be in place. (One of these, often completely ignored, is a healthy male partner. More about him later.)
As fundamental as these things are, they are often in short supply in the very people who are most determined to set about populating the planet according to a specified schedule.
Lets turn our attention to the word “fitness” for a moment. It immediately conjures up ideas of Lycra and stationary bicycles. If you were English you might think of Jane Fonda. Or am I showing my age?
“Fitness” does indeed refer to your capacity to do a certain amount of work (and to recover within a reasonable time-frame). However of interest here is another meaning of the word:-
“The capacity of an organism to survive and produce viable offspring capable of surviving to the next generation”
The schoolboy expression upon seeing a desirable member of the opposite sex “Wow- she’s fit!” probably also takes a number of other factors into consideration. In any event, for our purposes, the same word is being used to convey both
the concept of general physical wellness (and possessing energy surplus to the level required simply to survive); and
the ability to successfully conceive and give birth.
This is no accident. In order to have a child, the prospective parents must be healthy. The point is this:- there is no special type of “pregnancy health” needed just for the job of procreation – and to be traded for some other kind of health once the job is done. It is rather the idea of general all round health (“Genkiness“) which gives you Fitness. In both of its health related meanings.
Let’s look at our couple in turn and see what this means from the perspective of oriental medicine.
In the case of the woman, the prospective foetus is looking for a warm, welcoming, calm place with plenty of nutrition. Assuming western medical diagnosis has ruled out specific problems* (i.e., the great majority of cases), from an oriental perspective we are interested principally in the quality and availability of Blood circulating and accumulating in the the uterus.
[Note* – Even here, an obstetrician consultant recently told me that different testing mechanisms will often yield completely different results on seemingly black and white issues. For example, whether the Fallopian tube is viable or closed.]
One common problem is what Acupuncture theory calls “blood deficiency”. The aspiring mother does not actually have enough general energy, warmth or internal nutrition for herself, let alone enough to spare for the next generation. Paradoxically, these people are often manage to sustain an extremely busy schedule and can appear full of energy. In reality they are running on empty and pushing themselves to exhaustion. Common symptoms are amenorrhoea or scanty periods, and/or a deep feeling of cold.
Fundamentally these people need to do less, especially in terms of mental activity/ worry. They should also keep warm, especially in their legs and lower abdomen, and replace their ‘healthy’ salad lunches with warm nourishing foods. Vegetarian patients with this diagnosis might consider introducing a little meat. If this is against their philosophy, they may consider specific foods or herbs to warm and nourish the blood.
Oriental medical treatment will be biased towards warming Moxibusion, with Acupuncture in more of a supporting role.
The opposite end of the spectrum is a state called “blood stagnation”. There is plenty of Blood and warmth, but it tends to collect in certain areas. This results in a poor distribution and circulation, with some areas overheated and others (often the extremities) feeling cold. Conditions such as PCOS and fibroids, amongst others, can result.
This lack of circulation has an obvious detrimental impact on fertility. For these patients, regular exercise is probably the single most important requirement to get the stagnant blood moving. Of course diet is also fundamental and in general an emphasis on fibre rich vegetables over meat is suggested.
Acupuncture & Moxibustion?
There is of course much nuance, and conditions can be more complicated and mixed than the polar opposites described above.
In my (biased) view and experience, good Acupuncture diagnosis and treatment can definitely help. However, rather than a special type of “fertility acupuncture” which purports to direct your energies specifically at procreation or “IVF acupuncture” designed according to a western diagnostic schedule, how about just plain and simple Acupuncture. Well executed with the “simple” and “general” goal of increasing your fundamental health (Genki) and therefore Fitness.
Part 2 of this Newsletter (Manly Virility) will look at the oft neglected father to be. Part 3 (10 Moons of Pregnancy) will assume successful conception (be it natural or assisted) and look at the process of pregnancy month by month from an Oriental medical perspective to see how this beautiful life process is best supported in treatment and at home.