Did anybody watch Alex Jones’ documentary on fertility? It’s still available on iPlayer, until 20th October, in case you missed it [1]. Much of the program did focus on her age, but fertility isn’t only about the date on your own birth certificate and indeed, more women over 40 than under 20 are now having babies [2]. Within the first minute she mentions that over 3.5 million women in the UK struggle to conceive, that’s one in seven couples [3]. The NHS choices website also provides some other statistics:

“For every 100 couples trying to conceive naturally:

  • 84 will conceive within one year
  • 92 will conceive within two years
  • 93 will conceive within three years

For couples who have been trying to conceive for more than three years without success, the likelihood of pregnancy occurring within the next year is 25% or less.”

Professor Tim Child, a consultant in reproductive medicine, who appears in Alex’s documentary explains what the statistics look like once age is taken into account: 90-95% of couples who are in their 20s fall pregnant within one year. In their early 30s, the percentage changes to 85-90% and in late 30s the figure is 75-80%. In their early 40s, 50% of couples conceive within a year but he was careful to point out that the chance of miscarriage does increase from late 30s.

The program also includes an interview with Zita West, a midwife and acupuncturist who runs a well respected fertility clinic in London. Zita recommends looking for your weak spots: stress, alcohol, diet, exercise. And make sure you’re having lots of sex! Of course, it’s not all about female fertility and it’s important that men also nourish their own bodies in a similar fashion. She makes is clear that you need to ensure that you’re getting key nutrients, and always tests for vitamin D levels as many of her clients are deficient. Zita sees this as ‘building up your reserves’. Her website is a rich resource for anyone who is trying to conceive and includes a free download “8 Simple Tips for Getting Pregnant Faster”.

One thing that is important for anyone to recognise is the emotional toll that an inability to conceive incurs.

Assisted reproduction technology

Assisted reproduction technology (ART) is advancing at an incredible rate and new approaches are being discovered all the time. This covers a wide range of techniques, including [4]:

  • Fertility medication, e.g. Clomid, which stimulates ovulation
  • Artificial insemination simply means that the sperm is placed into the uterus or cervix. This may even be done at home using a conception cap
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF) means that fertilization occurs outside of the female body and could include several techniques:
    • The eggs are retrieved from the female body, often after artificial follicle stimulation
    • The egg is mixed with 50,000 to 100,000 sperm or a procedure known as ICSI may be used where a single sperm is manually injected into the egg. If they woman has no eggs or poor egg quality, a donor may be used. Likewise, a sperm donor may be used if there is no male partner or if he has no viable sperm due to disease, or other factor.
    • Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) may be used in order to screen the embryos and select those that have the healthiest characteristics
    • The embryo is then introduced into the womb but does not classify as a pregnancy until it has implanted into the lining of the womb and is not detectable via blood or urine tests until 1 week after that

ART is not without risks and the emotional, physical and financial burden is often high. The availability of treatment on the NHS varies per region and age group. The Herefordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (HCCG’s) policy on Assisted Conception is available online and will currently “fund the investigation of couples with infertility when the woman, aged between 25 and 39, fails to conceive after 1 year of unprotected vaginal sexual intercourse, in the absence of any known medical cause of infertility” or in the case of same-sex couples, or couples who have physical disability/psychosexual problems that prevent intercourse, and have undergone 6 cycles of assisted conception with a licensed clinic. If the strict set of criteria is met, one cycle of IVF will then be funded.

Acupuncture and Fertility

There has been a significant amount of media coverage on the topic of acupuncture assisting fertility, here’s one from The Guardian that focuses on the style of acupuncture that we use at The Wellhaven Clinic. The clinic that was highlighted in this article recorded very high success rates. What we particularly like about this article is that it’s careful to explain that no two patients are alike; there is no set treatment plan that every patient goes through. That makes it very hard to prove that acupuncture boosts fertility via the type of large scale trial they use to prove the efficacy of drugs.

That isn’t to say that useful research doesn’t exist and a visit to the British Acupuncture Council site provides a summary. There are many Chinese studies available, that yield positive results but less outside of China. The three areas that research has “established plausible mechanisms to explain” [5] are:

  • Regulating of fertility hormones [6]
  • Increasing of blood flow to the reproductive organs [7]
  • Counteracting the effects of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) [8]

One factor that must not be under-estimated is the importance of good emotional support and if a couple are going through a long period of time trying to conceive, seeing a therapist may also help on this level and not simply from a physical point of view.

Feel free to give us a call or book a free 15 min consultation to discuss how acupuncture and our other services, might be able to help you.

What’s the point?

Like all acupuncture treatments, treating fertility is different for every patient, but here’s a point that’s frequently used:

CV4

To find this point, first find the pubis bone (that’s the bony lump below where we think of our bladder being). CV4 is a quarter of the way between the top edge of the pubis bone and the belly button.