Whenever I discuss Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture for gynecological/ fertility issues I like to highlight that this medicine has thousands of years of wisdom. Yes, you read that correctly – TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) has been around for over two thousand years! It truly is an amazing medicine I get to practice while helping people heal themselves. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are incredibly important in helping families grow to include a child/ children.
Generally speaking, healthy fertility does not simply mean the ability to conceive. Healthy fertility means establishing and able to carry a pregnancy for 9 months to full term. Having a positive pregnancy test is the first hurdle and milestone. The quality of the embryo that has helped create a positive pregnancy test is important. Also equally important is the quality of the uterine lining and uterine environment which is incredibly crucial for solid implantation, development of the placenta and having a healthy pregnancy.
Unfortunately, miscarriage is common and causes women to experience and feel grief and stress. Miscarriage refers to pregnancy loss from conception until 23 weeks gestation. Reported clinical rates of miscarriage reported to be 10-25% or higher depending on age of the woman. The rates of loss of embryos after fertilization and before implantation are much higher than 25%. 75% of pregnancy losses are due to implantation failure and are not clinically recognized as miscarriages. When there is a small amount of hCG found on an early pregnancy test it is called a biochemical pregnancy. It was able to reach implantation but was not able to go any further than that.
Acupuncture can help assist with implantation
I am sure you are asking your self – “how could acupuncture possible help with implantation?” In my practice, I have seen many patients labeled with a diagnosis of implantation failure. When they start acupuncture they are not able to hold a pregnancy after a certain week. Often I have found that it is usually around 8-10 weeks of pregnancy. Being able to add weekly acupuncture treatments during the first trimester can be incredibly helpful. First of all, acupuncture is incredibly helpful in being able to calm stress and anxiety during this time in which a mother can have an increased amount of anxiety because she is worried about pregnancy loss. Excessive worry, stress, and anxiety is not helpful during the first trimester when a woman has a history of pregnancy loss. When women are stressed their body makes the stress hormone Cortisol and to stay pregnant women need high amounts of progesterone. Women’s bodies can convert progesterone to cortisol which is not ideal for a healthy pregnancy. Acupuncture calms the nervous system and lowers cortisol which will help keep progesterone high for a healthy pregnancy. Lowering cortisol also keeps the woman feeling calm and able to handle stressors in daily life that may arise.
Miscarriage and age
Miscarriage and age… comes up incredibly often at my office. In Western medicine advanced maternal age is the primary risk factor for miscarriage. Then the risk increases dramatically after age 35. Advanced maternal age can affect miscarriage it is important to take into consideration the male partner’s age and sperm count, quality and morphology. There have been several studies that have looked at the age of the male partner and also noting that more advanced age is correlated to more pregnancy losses. This risk is even more obvious when the female partner is under the age of 35. The pregnancy loss rate in younger women with male partners aged >35 is double that of women with younger husbands, which I am sure (read more about the study here) does not surprise most women.
(graph from Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine by Jane Lyttleton pg 274)
Alcohol and drug use can affect the mother’s health. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) alcohol and drug use can create increased internal Heat in the body. Excess heat in the body can cause damage or thin the endometrium. Thining of the endometrium is not ideal for creating a healthy and nourishing environment for the embryo to implant and grow.
Prescription drugs and over the counter drugs can lead to miscarriage, too. There is evidence that shows that NSAIDs can contribute (read more about the study here) to miscarriage. There was one particular study showing that using (aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen) can contribute to pregnancy loss by up to 80%. This risk was much higher when they were taken around conception or when used longer than a week. There still needs to be more research done around miscarriage and pharmaceuticals, they should be avoided in the first trimester when it is possible and feasible.
Acupuncture and TCM in preventing pregnancy loss
I always encourage my fertility patients that became pregnant in my care to continue acupuncture through week 12 -15 of pregnancy. I especially encourage my patients that have had a history of miscarriage because acupuncture has much to offer in prevention. I usually have patients with a history of miscarriage to come once a week until the end of the first trimester. There are specific points that help the woman decrease their anxiety in order to keep cortisol low and progesterone high. There are also several points that help reinforce and nourish implantation. These acupuncture points also help encourage blood supply and nourish the fetus. My patients love to come during this time early in their pregnancy because they feel and are taking an active role in preventing another miscarriage.
I also encourage my patients that conceived under my care and were taking Chinese herbs for conception to continue taking herbs, too. There are specific Chinese herbs that help reinforce and nourish implantation. There are also specific herbs that help prevent any blood loss that is essential for an embryo/ fetus. I usually have to personally make a Chinese herbal formula for prevention of pregnancy loss. It is a simple formula that I am able to encapsulate and make specifically for my patients’ diagnosis and needs.
When a woman with a complicated health history of recurrent pregnancy loss or implantation issues I highly encourage acupuncture and Chinese herbs. When a woman is able to take an herbal formula daily she is helping to improve her uterine environment daily and when paired with weekly acupuncture she is increasing her chances of preventing another pregnancy loss and increasing the chances of healthy implantation for an embryo. I believe the more information a woman has about her health and how to improve the environment for an embryo/ fetus she will be able to make the best-informed decision for her and her family.