Why Do People Come for Fertility Acupuncture?
Many women who come to me for Fertility Acupuncture have never had acupuncture before and have no real idea about how it works and what it can do for them. Yet they come anyway.
They come because a friend fell pregnant after incorporating acupuncture into her pre-conception care.
They came because they read an article which mentioned that acupuncture might help.
They come through desperation.
So Why Should They Come?
This is the first in a series of articles exploring the difference that fertility acupuncture can make to fertility, and how you would know that it is making a difference to you. If more people could understand how fertility acupuncture can improve their menstrual cycle, they would walk in the door and tell me that they need me to improve their menstrual cycle in order to improve their fertility.
Fertility is Not a Switch
In all but the most exceptional cases, fertility is not a switch, it is more of a sliding scale; you are rarely infertile one day, and fertile the next, and you can slowly but surely improve your fertility by improving your menstrual health, hormone health and underlying mental and physical health. Fertility Acupuncture gives you a way to do just that.
Fertility health is absolutely entwined with menstrual health, and acupuncture can make an incredible difference to the menstrual cycle. In addition to this, it also improves the underlying hormone regulation system and fundamental aspects of health such as sleep, digestion, emotional resilience. Through this broad sweep of improvements, fertility acupuncture can improve fertility.
Let’s start at the beginning of that list, exploring a difference that fertility acupuncture can make to the menstrual cycle by looking at the issue of cycle length.
This is a particularly obvious feature of a menstrual cycle. It is not unusual for me to take on a client with a short menstrual cycle (less than 24 days), a long menstrual cycle (over 35 days) or a particularly erratic cycle length (where it may be 22 days on one month, and 45 days on the next).
In a normal, healthy menstrual cycle, once the egg has been released, the follicle turns into a corpus luteum which generates progesterone for around 12 days; the bleed is triggered when progesterone drops off at the end of the luteal phase.
The Short Cycle
This can be an issue for fertility because there isn’t really enough time within a short cycle for the body to mature and ripen an egg, and for a luteal phase that is long enough to allow a strong, solid implantation before progesterone falls, triggering a breakdown of the uterine lining. Something is likely to be compromised – either follicle maturation and egg release is too quick, or the luteal phase is too short. Ideally it takes between 14-18 days to mature and ripen an egg, and the luteal phase should be around 12-14 days long
If you do the maths on that, it is best to aim for a cycle that is somewhere around 28 days (ideally slightly longer). I am not saying it is impossible to fall pregnant with a short cycle, but the odds are heavily stacked against you.
The Long Cycle
The luteal phase of a cycle is rarely over 14 days, so in the example of a 45 day cycle the follicular phase would have taken 31 days instead of the more usual 14 days. When the follicular maturation phase is so slow, this decreases the likelihood of it generating a viable egg. It is still possible to release a viable egg with a long cycle, but again, the odds are stacked against you.
When the cycle is over 35 days, it raises the possibility that the cycle is anovulatory (that the bleed is not actually a bleed triggered through ovulation). With a very long cycle, it is possible the bleed is not triggered by a post-ovulatory fall in progesterone, but that the bleed is a natural breakdown and shedding of the uterine lining after a long period of accumulation. It is worth adding that this is possible with a normal length cycle too - which is why it is always worth actually checking that you are ovulating (I have another article written about that).
The Irregular Cycle
Another thing I frequently come across is an irregular cycle – a cycle that can range from 16 days to 50 days and beyond, a cycle that is erratic and unpredictable. When cycle length is this variable, there may be diagnosed or undiagnosed issue with polycystic ovaries, or there maybe some other hormonal irregularity causing such a random menstrual cycle. With an irregular cycle, basal body temperature charts and careful tracking of hormonal signs and symptoms can really help us to work out what is and is not happening and what we can do to support the cycle to return to a healthier rhythm.
So How Does Acupuncture Help?
Almost without exception, within a couple of cycles of treatment with fertility acupucture I would expect to see the cycle start to stabilise, start edging back into the realms of normality. I see short cycles lengthen, I see long cycles shorten, and I see irregular cycles slowly settle back into a regular pattern. This is probably one of the more visible, obvious improvements that happen with regular fertility acupuncture, and I am always pleasantly amused by how amazed my clients are that their body is starting to produce a more fertile cycle. As the cycle normalises and settles into a more healthy rhythm, the hormonal dance is able to nourish follicle growth, mature an egg and trigger ovulation in the way that nature intended, and in this way, acupuncture is able to improve your natural fertility.