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Fertility Acupuncture 101: How Does Acupuncture Work?

An expert explores how fertility acupuncture can increase your chances of success with fertility treatment, lower stress and anxiety, and improve overall wellbeing.

November 15th, 2023 | 7 min. read

By Dr. Amy Matton, DACM, L.Ac

Considering acupuncture on your fertility journey? Learn how it can help increase IVF success rates, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve overall wellness - straight from an expert acupuncturist.

In this article:

Fertility, Acupuncture & Success Rates

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is at the forefront of modern medical science, with over 8 million babies born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) since its first success in 1978.

Over the past decade, preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) and genetic carrier screening have drastically improved, causing implantation rates to soar. Overall IVF success rates now hover around 55% for women under 35, with success rates for other age groups also improving as technology continues to advance. 

Curious about Illume Fertility's success rates? Explore them here.

But what does all of this have to do with acupuncture? And why does acupuncture, a practice that first began in China thousands of years ago, deserve a place at the family-building table? In this guide, I will dive in to the basics of acupuncture for fertility. I'll also explain the convergence of the old and the new, traditional and modern, Eastern and Western modalities.

Why? Because when it comes to fertility, chances of success increase when you treat the whole person - and we have the studies and babies to prove it!

How does acupuncture help fertility?

It is likely acupuncture is working through a number of different mechanisms to enhance fertility including regulating reproductive hormones and improving blood flow to the uterus and the ovaries. Enhanced blood flow may increase responsiveness to treatment and implantation of embryos.

But the benefits of acupuncture are not just physical. The research supporting the use of acupuncture for the treatment of anxiety and depression is compelling.

Anyone who has been in fertility treatment can tell you that managing the emotional stress of treatment can be difficult. Acupuncture helps regulate the nervous system and releases neurochemicals that promote feelings of wellbeing, which can patients cope with the ups and downs of treatment.

Did you know? Research shows that receiving acupuncture treatments before and after your IVF embryo transfer significantly increases your chances of successful embryo implantation! Learn more about what impacts your chances of success here.

When is the best time to get acupuncture for fertility?

While acupuncture can be used at any stage of the fertility process, we recommend starting as soon as possible, as the benefits of acupuncture are cumulative. We see patients who are trying to conceive without fertility treatment as well as those who are using high-tech science to reach their family-building goals.

It’s never too early to start maximizing your health and well-being! Because acupuncture helps enhance fertility, calm the nervous system, and reduce stress and anxiety, it can be helpful at any point, including while you are going through diagnostic testing and evaluating your treatment options.

Note: The general rule of thumb is that three months of optimizing your health prior to conception is ideal, not just for acupuncture, but for nutrition, vitamin intake, reducing stress and creating a healthy environment for a pregnancy. 

Trying to conceive?

Increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy by downloading our free 90-Day Preconception Checklist.

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How often should I receive acupuncture treatment?

In this case, more may be better! Emerging studies indicate women who are having regular acupuncture may have better results, meaning more pregnancies and live births.

We suggest scheduling an initial session with an acupuncturist to see if it resonates with you. Then, let your practitioner guide you in creating a treatment protocol that is reasonable and fits your specific health needs as well as your time and financial constraints.

Some studies say, in addition to pre-and post-embryo transfer acupuncture, as few as two additional treatments enhanced pregnancy rates. In other studies, as many as twelve treatments are suggested. The truth is there probably isn’t a magic number as everyone’s needs are a bit different.

What happens in a typical acupuncture session?

After filling out a health history form, your acupuncturist will spend quite a bit of time getting to know you. We will review the form together and your acupuncturist will ask questions about your fertility journey, as well as your lifestyle, constitution, and overall health, so we can customize a treatment protocol just for you.

After our discussion, we will take your pulse and look at your tongue, which are classic parts of the Traditional East Asian Medicine diagnostic system. After formulating a working diagnosis, we will have you lie down on a massage table. If you need to disrobe so we can access certain acupuncture points, we will have you draped in a blanket so you are covered and comfortable.

Post-needle insertion, we will have you lie quietly for 20-25 minutes in a warm, dimly lit room with soft music playing. We will check on you regularly to ensure you are comfortable, then gently remove the acupuncture needles at the end of your session. 

Does acupuncture hurt?

The answer is no! Acupuncture is not painful.

These are not the same type of needles you are likely familiar with. In fact, they are a fraction of the size fertility patients use for injections. Acupuncture needles are solid, flexible, sterile, and in many cases, only the thickness of a hair.

How does acupuncture feel?

Most people report an energy (qi) sensation around the site of insertion. Typically people use words like dull, achy, heavy, warm, or tingly. After the needles are in for a few minutes, most people describe a feeling of deep relaxation.

Tip: If the thought of needles doesn't appeal to you, consider laser acupuncture, which is needle-less, painless, and uses low level near-infrared light to stimulate the acupuncture points.

Real Patients Share Acupuncture Experiences

Don't just take it from an acupuncturist, listen to your fellow fertility patients' experiences with acupuncture and how it helped them during their journey:

"I did acupuncture with Amy throughout my IUIs and and IVF. It helped my anxiety, gave me a sense of having some control in a situation where you have none, and I definitely got some good post acupuncture naps in!" 

"Acupuncture provided relaxation when my world seemed so stressful. It was the thing I looked forward to every week. I found it to be the only way to calm my nerves. It worked so well, I continued to see Elaine even after I had my baby."

"I did acupuncture before and after my embryo transfer. My little miracle was born last April. Can’t say for certain if acupuncture made all the difference, but it made us feel like we were doing everything we could to help the process, and if needed, we’ll be doing it again!"

"Knowing I was tapping into all available medical resources was reassuring."

"I read that acupuncture helped improve your chances of a successful pregnancy and wanted to do everything I could. Acupuncture helped me relax and remain hopeful before, during, and after IVF. I truly believe it was a factor in my two successful embryo transfers that resulted in my beautiful boys. Many thanks to Amy and Elaine for the pre and post-transfer treatments!"

“I cannot recommend laser acupuncture enough. It helped me relax and get into the best mindset possible before going into each of my transfer procedures.”

The bottom line? Acupuncture offers a holistic, relaxing way to improve your odds of success while trying to conceive, and also improves your mental and physical wellbeing. 

Now is the best time to optimize your health.

Download our free 90-Day TTC Checklist and learn how to prepare physically, financially, and mentally for the road ahead.

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How to Book an Acupuncture Appointment

So, there you have it! You have just completed Fertility Acupuncture 101. Not so bad, right?

As always, our Acupuncture Team is happy to answer any follow-up questions you might have (whether you are a current patient at Illume Fertility or not). If you are a patient in treatment at Illume, the great news is that you can schedule an appointment directly with any of our four acupuncturists!

Meet Illume Fertility's Acupuncture Team

Click the links below to get to know each of us a bit more and to schedule a session, or ask any member of your Care Team for more information on acupuncture or other Integrated Fertility & Wellness program offerings.

Dr. Amy Matton, DACM, L.Ac

A graduate of Pacific College of Health and Science with a doctoral degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Dr. Matton is a licensed acupuncturist and certified herbalist. Her areas of expertise include women’s health and fertility issues, pain management, anxiety, stress, and adjunctive cancer care. In addition, Dr. Matton serves as Coordinator for Illume's Integrated Fertility & Wellness program.