When I began the practice of acupuncture over a decade ago, I never thought that I would treat women with infertility issues. It felt complicated and out of my league. But one day a young woman came to me who had been trying to conceive for years, and from a Chinese medical standpoint, her problem was obvious. We worked together for a few months, and she got pregnant. She told her friends, more women came to acupuncture for infertility issues, and more became pregnant. Over many years of treating women who are trying to become pregnant (while not 100 percent), the effectiveness of Chinese medicine is apparent.
When it comes to infertility, not all women are created equal. There are a number of patterns of imbalance in Chinese medicine that can be the underlying cause of an inability to become pregnant. Among them:
1) Kidney organ system depletion. Your Chinese Kidney is considered to be the deepest and most essential of the organ systems. It is the home to many of your body’s vital substance such as Yin and Yang and Essence. The Kidney system is responsible for your body constitution, which determines your overall health as well as how you will develop, mature, and age. It is also directly related to fertility. For most women seeking help from Chinese medicine for infertility issues, strengthening the Kidney system is often the primary focus of treatment.
Some signs that your Kidney system could be depleted include a weak and achy lower back or knees, waking hot at night or feeling cold to the core (or both), deep fatigue, metabolic issues, and frequent illnesses.
2) Depletion of Qi or Blood. Qi is the energy necessary for your body to perform its functions—from digestion to moving your muscles. And in Chinese medicine, your Blood is considered to be only as strong as its nourishing function. Poor diet, eating disorders, blood loss, lack of adequate sleep, and overworking all have the ability to deplete your Qi or Blood, and in many cases, both.
Your body needs adequate Qi and Blood to become pregnant and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Some signs that your Qi is depleted include feeling tired, easy bruising, poor digestion, feeling cold, and catching frequent colds. Blood depletion may show up as looking pale, dry skin, brittle nails, dizziness or feeling light-headed, and scanty menstrual periods.
3) Liver Qi Stagnation. This is stress and strong emotions causing your body to “seize up”. Your Chinese Liver system is responsible for the smooth flow of everything in your body, from your digestion and menstrual cycle, to your emotions and feelings of well-being. When you become very stressed out, emotional, or frustrated (what woman struggling with infertility isn’t?), your Liver Qi becomes bound up and causes a cascade of symptoms. Stress, irritability, a racing mind (especially as you try to sleep), feeling hot, and even pain under your ribs are signs that your emotions are getting the better of you.
4) Stagnation of Qi and Blood. This is similar to the pattern above, in that things aren’t moving very well in your body. However, while Liver Qi stagnation is more emotional in nature, stagnation of Qi and Blood is more physical. Symptoms of this pattern of imbalance include endometriosis, pelvic infections, and pelvic pain and cramping. Any kind of structural blockages of your reproductive system would fall under this pattern.
5) Phlegm and dampness. Wait…what? How can phlegm even be remotely associated with infertility? Let’s start with dampness, which is your body’s inability to properly metabolize fluids. Poor digestion, a slow metabolism, weight gain, and a funky diet all are contributors to this pattern. Dampness in your body may show up as…damp stuff, such as yeast infections, athlete’s foot, water retention, bladder infections, and swelling. When dampness sits around in your body for long enough, it congeals and becomes phlegm. It may show up as actual phlegm, such as sinus problems or congested lungs, but phlegm is also the culprit behind accumulations such as cysts, fibroids, and polycystic ovaries.
If you choose acupuncture and Chinese medicine for infertility issues, the first order of business for your practitioner is to determine what pattern is at the source of the problem. And because everything affects everything else in your body, more than one pattern may be at play here. Your practitioner will then use a variety of tools to set things right, including acupuncture, food therapy, Chinese herbs, heat therapy, stress relief, and other lifestyle changes.