The Path to Parenthood, Part 1: FERTILITY

Blackbird nest

by Kandace Cahill, DAOM, L.Ac, FABORM

Welcome to our first installment of The Path to Parenthood—a collection of three special articles related to the most important times around mamahood: fertility, pregnancy, and postpartum. In each of these short articles, we’re going to delve into these topics and talk about why Chinese medicine is an indispensable tool for improving outcomes, as well as answering many questions, dispelling myths, and creating new awareness around self-care.

Our first topic is FERTILITY, which makes up a large percentage of what we treat at WWA. This is obviously the cornerstone of parenthood, as fertility challenges dictate our ability to create the families we desire. Unfortunately, these challenges are becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide and assisted reproduction (such as IVF) has become BIG BUSINESS.

While the business of fertility is undeniably important—indeed, nothing short of miraculous for many who wish to start a family—it is also costly: financially, mentally, and physically. These tolls put a tremendous amount of pressure on the would-be parents, and each successive fertility effort is weighted with this strain while hope becomes replaced by anxiety and doubt. This is where Chinese medicine comes into play. And it’s an area where Western and Eastern medicine is able to integrate beautifully, each supporting the other for improved odds.

Here’s what is great about Western medicine when it comes to fertility: because of advanced diagnostic methods, they are able to get to the bottom of why you aren’t getting pregnant (most of the time). By first pinpointing the underlying fertility problems, they can then determine the best treatment for you. Whether that’s IVF, IUI, or trying to conceive on your own, the goal is to choose the method that offers you the highest chance of conceiving. Through whichever method, they bring egg & sperm together and improve the odds of success.

And here’s what’s great about Chinese medicine: we take those chances and make them better. If your chance of conceiving with any IVF cycle is 40%, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine could increase the odds of conception to 65%. And in some cases, we can actually help you avoid costly treatments altogether.

Why is that?

Like Western medicine, Chinese medicine also gets to the bottom things, but we do it from a different angle. While Western medicine may tell us that the ovaries aren’t working very well anymore (this is called a diminished ovarian reserve, or DOR), Chinese medicine seeks to understand why, from the perspective of the body’s internal balance. And then, based on thousands of years of observation & methodology, we apply techniques to correct the imbalances and make things work better. So, in the case of DOR, Chinese medicine can actually improve ovarian function and EGG QUALITY. We do this by improving blood flow to the ovaries, by increasing energy production in the eggs themselves (Yes, we are talking mitochondrial ATP here, people. This helps your body produce rock-star eggs), and by improving hormone signaling (which regulates the cycle and supports a possible pregnancy).

That’s something that Western medicine CAN’T do. They can’t improve the quality of the eggs. They can make you make more. But they can’t make them better. And that’s why we make such a great team.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Take these pictures as an example:

IVF - Effect of TCM treatment on embryo quality in 5 months copy

These are real-life examples, shared from an acupuncture colleague of ours in North Carolina. Both images are from a single patient that she treated with acupuncture and Chinese herbs in preparation for IVF. The top image shows 3 embryos from her first IVF, before receiving treatment with Chinese medicine. In this image, we see poor quality embryos, as indicated by the granulation and abnormal cell division. See all the debris in those embryos? That’s not good.

The bottom image, however, shows new embryos after 5 months of treatment with Chinese medicine. This treatment was geared specifically towards improving egg quality. Now, look at those embryos…No granulation, beautiful cell division. These rock-star embryos were the ones that led to a successful pregnancy!

In this case, what we don’t know is if any changes in her IVF protocol led to the changes in her embryo quality. But for those of us in the field of Reproductive Chinese Medicine, we take this as good visual evidence that we are, in fact, affecting a positive change.

Another thing that we do with Chinese medicine is optimize the uterine environment, so that the embryo has a greater chance of implanting, and, thus, a higher likelihood of surviving to term (that part will be covered in the next article on PREGNANCY). Because even all of the ovarian stimulation and rock-star embryos in the world won’t make a bean of difference if the uterus is not receptive to the embryo. By optimizing uterine blood flow and calming the nervous system, we help this process happen.

And it doesn’t end there. There are many potential factors involved in impaired fertility, and Chinese medicine can benefit most of them: hormonal disturbances (such as PCOS, hypothyroidism, hyperprolactinemia, etc.), structural issues (such as endometriosis), thin uterine lining, poor uterine or ovarian blood flow, recurrent miscarriage, poor sperm parameters, varicoceles, autoimmune factors, …you name it. Chinese medicine is an incredible tool for these issues because we strive to correct the problem from the inside.

Finally, we work to reduce the fertility-related stress that invariably occurs along the way. Tending to the emotions is imperative in fertility, as stress may have negative consequences on egg/sperm production, uterine receptivity, and implantation. By regulating cortisol rhythms, reducing fight-or-flight responses, and improving mental calm, we help improve your chances of success while also tending to your mental-emotional health.

It’s worth mentioning that Chinese medicine isn’t just reserved for infertility. Even without impaired fertility, acupuncture and herbs can dramatically help improve fertile potential, thereby increasing your chances of conceiving quickly and naturally on your own. So, either way, you slice it, Chinese medicine takes fertility and makes it ROCK STAR FERTILITY.

  • Contact Us to receive tips on self-care for fertility! Tips include diet, exercise, supplements, meditation, and breathing techniques.
  • Want to see if Well Woman Acupuncture is right for you? Call Us to schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation.
  • Featured Reads:  It Starts with the Egg.

15a2e10aff4e0ca5f7bca7b1f78590dbThis is our FAVORITE book on fertility! It is an essential guidebook for patients, full of self-care tips that help influence egg quality. Here is one review that we found sums it up perfectly: “A thoroughly-researched and eye-opening account of how small, simple lifestyle changes can have powerful, positive effects on your health and fertility. A must-read for women wanting the best chance of conceiving a healthy baby.”  – Beth Greer (Bestselling Author of Super Natural Home)

Contact Us to purchase your copy of It Starts with the Egg

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