If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you asked me one of the MOST frequent of FAQs… “Nicole, exactly WHEN should I come in to see you?” Precisely because I get this question so often, I’ve put together this handy dandy post with why you might come in at various parts of your cycle/life as well as my #1 answer to this question… “Well, it really depends on YOU!”
So here goes!
There are pretty amazing things that acupuncture can achieve at any old time. Hurrah for no fancy/stressful special timing needed! Lemme share the biggies:
Acupuncture can Regulate Your Nervous system & Improve Endocrine Function (read: better fertility) Acupuncture hits the reset button on your nervous system by regulating your brain activity and chilling you out- sounds pretty dreamy right!? (If you want to see a BBC documentary with an fMRI study exploring this click here and skip to 49:30.) When the brain is more calm, the endocrine system functions better (hello reproduce and digest, so long fight-or-flight). Technically this is called regulation of your hypothalamic pituitary ovarian axis and acupuncture helps do it!
Some extra bonuses - a calmer more relaxed brain and nervous system help you get clearer headed and make better decisions. (Lord knows you’ve probably got some big ones to make!) And there are loads of other nice ripples beyond merely having 30 minutes of blissful peace and quiet which in and of itself is pretty priceless these days!
Acupuncture Improves Circulation, Especially to Your Reproductive Organs (read: better fertility) Acupuncture (especially electro acupuncture) also helps improve circulation to your digestion and reproductive organs! This can help pretty much any time during fertility struggles because better blood flow influences all sorts of things… like, say… making sure your hormones or fertility meds get to your ovaries and uterus more consistently, helping thicken your uterine lining for better implantation rates, nourishing and supporting a newly implanted embryo and even helping insure your uterus is ready to run that “marathon” of labor and delivery when it comes time for baby! Helping with digestion seems a touch less obvious, but more and more immune system and blood sugar/metabolic/hormonal concerns are directly linked to your GUT and these things are highly linked to improving fertility and pregnancy in big ways!
Acupuncture Improves Mental Health / Decreases Anxiety, Depression and PTSD Risk (read: better fertility) Acupuncture can also generally improve your mental health and regulate stress hormones like cortisol. It can decrease both anxiety and depression which might just seem like a perk if you think that your mental health is separate from your fertility and just a sacrifice to the gods of infertility, but if you push against this (terrible and incorrect!) belief and take things one logical step further, there are actually studies that show women who are more anxious and depressed have slightly lower success rates in fertility treatments. I saw stress talked about in one Reproductive Endocrinology book like this,
Plus 46% of women who go through fertility treatments meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD (with or without baby) which is not cool and we can DO something about that. Once again, we need to connect the dots and clearly see decreasing your anxiety and depression isn’t just a perk, it actually helps the cause (not to mention, all of you matters)! And, dare I mention one more obvious thing? When it comes to mental health and trauma, going into a pregnancy or the newborn phase more mentally balanced is amazing!
Acupuncture Encourages Cell Regeneration and Repair and Increases Stem Cells (read: better fertility) Electrostim acupuncture has been linked to optimizing stem cells that help with tissue regeneration and repair. Separately, there have been studies showing that stem cells levels in the uterus are likely key to endometrial receptivity and even that infusions of platelet rich plasma into the uterus might be helpful in women who have had failed IVF transfers via optimizing stroma/stem cells… so if you put those two things together even if your IVF clinic does’t offer infusion therapy it’s possible that doing some electro stim acupuncture might help in similar ways!
Acupuncture can Encourage Healthier Pregnancies with Better Outcomes!!! (read: this is about MORE than just fertility) So, we know (see above) that acupuncture can help pelvic and uterine blood flow and endocrine function and cell generation and all sorts of amazing things. Now, let’s put it all together for the even BIGGER picture win! New research on placentas is actually showing that standard mainstream pregnancy care, might very well be totally missing the boat on preventing scary outcomes like preeclampsia, HEELP, IUGR, preterm birth and more. Why you ask? (Thanks for asking!) Because standard mainstream care DOESN’T do much (anything really) in the first trimester and the first trimester is when the placenta is forming, and…. (drumroll please) how robust and awesome your placenta is, is proving to be KEY to lowering all these pregnancy risks! So AGAIN… let’s take just ONE step back and connect those dots! YOU taking time to get more in balance in all the above ways is good for your fertility and could help WAY beyond that positive pregnancy test! Win, win, win, win, win, win!
Lest you think I’m shirking the question… “WHEN should I come in for acupuncture Nicole?” I can also tell you that YES, there are LOADS of studies on protocols and treatment strategies for specific concerns and nuances that we could get into. Things like what to do if you’re a poor responder in IVF, have PCOS with blood sugar concerns, endometriosis, are doing a transfer, etc. etc. etc. THere’s a HUGE list of research you can look at over on this post :) But here’s the thing I REALLY REALLY WANT YOU TO TAKE AWAY….
ALL of these benefits, all the positive ripples, all the amazing physiological changes, shifts in neurochemicals and benefits to all the layers of your body, mind and experience. Be they from a “general come in when you can,” point-of-view or a “specific protocol mindset,” they can all be COMPLETELY UNDONE by you walking back out my door and into the real world and going right back into fight-or-flight mode. All the good we can do together with acupuncture treatments… well, real life can offset it and then some. So to me, getting kick-ass acupuncture without you ALSO having life skills and reframes and more tools in your toolbox for real life is a total MISS.
This is why I spend more time per visit and between visits communicating, educating, empowering and informing you. I want to use acupuncture to hit the reset and get you to a blissful baseline then send YOU out into the world capable and skillful and adding ONTO the good we’re doing… not undoing, offsetting and shifting back to stressed and overwhelmed.
And here’s a BIG thing… sometimes running around for acupuncture visits, cramming in more appointments, spending more money… it actually PUTS you into fight-or-flight. So you come into my office, we work together to get you all chill and then you think about how overwhelmed you are by your schedule and how much your partner is annoyed by you spending money on stuff they don’t “get,” and how you really just want to go home and take your life off “hyper-focussed on baby misery,” and LIVE and that’s never gonna register like you want it to.
So, you MUST find the sweet spot. I know lots of clinics say do X number of visits before your transfer or see us two times a week for the best results. I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit (go ahead, ask me how I really feel). No one knows YOU better than YOU. I get GREAT results and I rarely see women more than once a week. ESPECIALLY with some education and tools in your toolbox, ESPECIALLY when you feel empowered and know how to feel better here and now and drop the desperate for a magic fix (that isn’t an option) mindset. Once a week is PLENTY, and it might make sense for you to do even less than weekly too based on your unique needs. Everything is connected. You feeling more balanced NOW is best for your fertility.
So, come in during times when you know you’re going to need/want some extra TLC, when you need an ear to listen, when you know you’ve got something specific that you want to trouble shoot and could use a little support or a reset. Come in as regularly as actually fits YOUR WHOLE LIFE and serves your big picture. And trust that that’s exactly the right number of visits or times to come in. Period.
I know you’ll have read ALL this (thanks for reading!) and I will have given this long / big picture answer and some people will still say, “but are there times you think are most important Nicole?” So if you’re doing IVF and you need a little more guidance and acupuncture feels doable/appealing, here’s some highlights that I generally suggest (so long as they don’t stress you out):
Once a week or every-other-week during active cycle times (stimming, prepping for FET) -
if we do e-stim it lasts 10-14 days so that covers circulation nicely
Once between retrieval and FRESH transfer ONLY if you have OHSS symptoms/concerns or high anxiety
One time within 3-5 days prior to transfer (this is our one last hurrah for aggressive blood circulation and e-stim prior to putting the embryo back in and shifting to more subtle blood moving treatments).
1-2 treatments preferably at your IVF clinic the day of embryo transfer (you bet I have a whole post just on that)!
Once during the 9 day wait, preferably closer to your HCG test day (I shoot for sometime during the last 3 days when possible because that’s when you’re likely going to start to panic and we can hit the reset and get you through those last days of waiting in a much more sane and supported way)
Once every 1-2 weeks through the first trimester with specific aim at getting something a few days before the 6-7week ultrasound (ditto for freak-outs here)!
Space out or stop for 2nd trimester unless there are specific concerns
Resume weekly or every-other-week for the final 6-8 weeks of pregnancy to gear up for childbirth, recovery and lactation
There you have it! There should be NO one-size-fits-all acupuncture. To get all the best benefits do what makes sense for YOU! Factor in research and recommendations and science and studies PLUS your real life concerns, finances, schedule, preferences and how acupuncture feels for YOU. If you find the balance and come in when acupuncture actually fits and feels right, you’ll get the MOST benefit for your buck. I’m happy to chat more about any of your specific concerns, questions, etc. at a visit. Just let me know what’s on your mind. I’m so happy and lucky to do this work, I know we will make your life better! Thanks for inviting me in!