Image: "The Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine" by Jane Lyttleton
Q: How Does Acupuncture Help to Improve Fertility?
A: This is a great question and one I get often. Chinese medicine acknowledges 4 distinct phases of the menstrual cycle. The duration of each stage can range dramatically from woman to woman depending on the overall health of her cycle. Taking a close look at the menstrual cycle gives us clues as to where there may be an imbalance in the cycle. An unhealthy or imbalanced cycle can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant and stay pregnant. Let’s break each phase down and explore what’s happening in the body during this time and how imbalances in each stage can affect a woman’s ability to conceive.
Phase 1- Starts with the first day of the period (cycle days 1-5 in acupuncture talk ;) and lasts until the bleeding stops. During the period the uterus is shedding it’s lining, getting rid of old tissue and making way for a new fresh lining to develop. Having an “effective” period is extremely important in setting the stage for pregnancy later in the month. If the lining doesn’t fully shed there will be old (stagnant) blood and tissue that can lead to painful or irregular periods and the embryo may have a difficult time finding a suitable place to implant.
~Acupuncture and herbal treatments during phase 1 ‘Regulate the Blood and Qi.’ If the period is to light or starts with spotting we will work to nourish and invigorate the blood. If the period is too heavy or long we will focus on regulating the blood to a more healthy and moderate flow. If there is pain or clotting we will work to smooth the flow of qi and blood to relieve pain. *Remember your period doesn’t need to be painful! Click <here> to read my article about what a healthy period should look and feel like.
Phase 2- This phase starts just after the period ends (cycle days 6-12 in a healthy cycle). During this time the endometrial lining of the uterus is thickening (future home for baby), the dominant follicle is developing in the ovary. Toward the end of phase 2 the cervix begins to produce mucous. An imbalance in this phase can lead to poor quality cervical mucous mid-cycle, delayed ovulation, or even a non-ovulatory cycle.
~Acupuncture and herbal treatments during phase 2 ‘Nourish the Blood and Yin.’ We nourish the blood because it has just been lost through the period and we need strong blood to build a healthy endometrial lining. Yin is a substance that helps the dominant follicle to develop and the cervix to produce good quality fertile mucous (imagine a protective express lane that help the sperm to reach the egg).
Phase 3- Ovulation (cycle days 12-16 in a healthy cycle). The egg matures, is released from the ovary and begins to travel down the fallopian tube. If the sperm reaches the egg and burrows its way in we have fertilization!
~Acupuncture and herbal treatments during phase 3 ‘Regulate the Qi and Blood.’ We want to feel calm during this phase of the cycle. There are tiny muscles in the fallopian tubes; stress can cause those muscles to contract making it difficult for the egg to travel smoothly down the tubes.
Phase 4- This part of the cycle lasts from a few days after ovulation through the start of the period or a positive pregnancy test (cycle days 17-28 in a healthy cycle). If fertilization has occurred and the embryo successfully implants in the endometrial lining a positive pregnancy test is soon to follow. If the yang energy is weak the pregnancy may not continue to develop. Many women who experience multiple miscarriages have weak yang energy.
~Acupuncture and herbal treatments during phase 4 ‘Warm the Uterus and Strengthen the Yang.’ Treatments are focused on warming the uterus, encouraging the lifting and holding energies to secure pregnancy. If the period comes we continue to work toward a healthy and balanced cycle for optimal fertility.
If you’re struggling to conceive or know someone who is, head to the Contact page to set up your Initial Consultation + Treatment or share this article with someone who could benefit from this information. During your first session we’ll go over your fertility and menstrual health history and discuss how we can bring balance to your cycle and optimize fertility with acupuncture treatments, herbal medicine, food therapy and lifestyle adjustments.
Thank you for reading!
PS. Do you have a question up your sleeve? Click here to submit your question and watch to see if it gets answered in my next newsletter.
Meghan E. Berg