Saturday, July 11, 2009

Guest Blogger - Cathy - Acupuncture

The Benefits of Acupuncture for Fertility

Ah, yes. Being poked and prodded by tons of little needles. Just what every girl dreams of. The real kicker -- we line up and fork over money to have it done to us.I am definitely one of those "crazies".

My husband and I, Cathy (your friendly guest-blogger for today's post) are gearing up to begin our first cycle of IVF in just a little over a week. Attempting to maximize our return on this lovely investment, I decided to explore a little acupuncture. It just so happened that right around the same time I was thinking I should find a good doctor and schedule an appointment, my local infertility group here in St. Louis - yes, the same group that our beloved Meghan organizes and leads - had a guest speaker on this very topic, none other than the infamous Christine Kleinschmidt with the WellBody Accupuncture Clinic here in Maplewood, MO.

In her niche, Christine is very well known and highly respected, especially in the St. Louis area. It's hard to visit a clinic or local message board and not find at least one woman who has been to her. To begin our evening, she gave us a very high level idea of the basic premise of acupuncture which is to promote good overall health and get rid of unwanted pain, like headaches and PMS symptoms, among many others. I'm not a big fan of needles, but according to most people you barely feel a thing. With the *right* person, I've head that you DO feel totally wonderful and relaxed post-session.

Ok, so who's not on board with this so far.Customized protocol and relaxing atmosphere are key As she pointed out, and as I've recently experienced, not all clinics will give you one-on-one care or a super spa-like atmosphere with your session. In Christine's opinion, she feels it's just as important as the after-effects of a session. I whole-heartedly agree. The clinic I just finished my sessions with came with very little privacy during treatment, which meant a lot less de-stressing. Let's just say, for me, it was like an appointment with my stylist on a very busy Saturday. Not ideal, if you get my drift.In contrast to that, Christine said she takes time to get up to speed on all the patients aches and pains, past medical issues, current meds taking, and, with regards to infertility, a list of problems and tests results that have been addressed. From all of this, she develops a treatment plan that is personally designed with your body in mind.

For those who are TTC or planning to undergo infertility treatments, she will take into account where you're at in your cycle and proceed accordingly. Again, what is not to love about this! For those TTC, what can acupuncture really do? From her perspective, she feels women can benefit in three key ways:
  • A more regulated endocrine system which equals less stress. Because a woman's body is a mass of fluctuating hormones, it's important that each particular hormone is released in key amounts at a given time of the cycle. While we all just HATE to hear "relax and you'll get pregnant", she confirmed that there is merit in this to some degree. Of course we all know regulated hormones won't fix it for everyone, but I'm sure it can help.
  • Better quality eggs because hormones are more in sync and eggs that are all recruited at the same rate in the case of IVF (where they all mature at the same time, vs having some small ones that never amount to quality in time for retrieval). She did comment that quantity won't really be affected much because you essentially have what you have. However, even in the cases of low antral follicle counts, improving the quality of what IS there can go a very, very long way.
  • Increased blood flow to vital reproductive organs, whether that means to the ovaries during the follicular phase or for implantation during the luteal phase. For women, like myself, who are dealing with scarring, or for those who have had ectopic pregnancies and may have adhesion's, this can help to deal with improving blood circulation to those areas where perhaps they are lacking somewhat.

When is "too late" to start acupuncture treatments? Certainly, sooner rather than later is better to begin treatments. If you're prepping to do an IVF cycle, for instance, the general rule of thumb Christine recommends is approx 2-3 months prior to your cycle. However, even if you're set to begin stims in just a few short weeks, it's not too late. In Christine's opinion, "it's never too late". You can always benefit in some way from acupuncture treatments. In fact, some women choose to go with the so-called "German Protocol", which means they go in for one treatment before and one treatment after their IVF embryo transfer. This protocol basically stems from a study that was done in Germany back in the 2002 that showed out of 160 women that participated, 42.5% of those who did acupuncture with their IVF cycle ended up pregnant, compared to 26.3% who didn't do acupuncture with their IVF treatment.

We all know not to get our hopes up about one singular study, but to many those numbers make acupuncture worth exploring.Should I see an acupuncturist who specializes in infertility? What I took away from her talk was this. There is one distinct difference among those who practice acupuncture and that is how many literal hours they have had under their belt. In the state of Missouri, for example, a chiropractor can offer acupuncture treatments to his/her patients with a minimum of 100 hours, however, in order for someone to become a true "licensed acupuncturist" they must have a total of 1,000. Pretty big difference if you ask me. According to this site, nationally, they are required to complete a minimum of 3 years of academic and clinical training or 5 years of apprenticeship. They must also pass national or state certification exams, much like physician's board exams, in order to practice. In Missouri, those who met this standard will be designated as Licensed Acupuncturists (LA).Combine this fact, with the concept of specializing in infertility and having treated women specifically with this in mind, I asked if there was harm in going to someone who didn't have a lot of training in dealing with women with infertility issues. She said that, generally speaking, you would likely, bare minimum, walk away feeling nice and refreshed. You may not fully benefit from acupuncture if that person doesn't understand which points to target, but it wouldn't likely hurt your odds either. However, she did say that with one exception. In the case of IVF, the time around retrieval and transfer is the most critical time. Depending on how your body is responding to various meds, your acupuncturist would be able to adjust his or her treatment based on your RE's most recent assessment of your blood estradiol level and ultrasound findings.

To me personally, I imagine that sort of fine-tune expertise would be highly valuable in a cycle where you want to make every little bit count. Give it a try. You never know what it could do for you.

This was my motto with acupuncture. Now, that has been extended to "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." because, as I eluded to earlier, I decided to try the less-experienced acupuncturist and that was one huge belly flop. Feel free to read all about it back at my blog: It's a great example of how an acupuncture visit for fertility should NOT go :-)

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