At Acupuncture in the Park, we have worked with a number of women seeking acupuncture for infertility issues. We have found that most couples going through fertility treatments will do almost anything to increase their chances of conceiving and delivering a healthy baby. For many, that has meant IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), in which fertilized embryos are placed directly into the womb.
To increase a couple’s chances of success, many fertility doctors transfer more than one embryo at a time, resulting in a higher incidence of multiple births. Since the “Octomom” case in which a woman delivered eight babies through the IVF process, doctors have dialed back, decreasing the number of big multiple births. The number of births involving twins, however, has stayed the same.
While many couples are happy having two babies for their efforts, the reality is that having twins increases the risk of premature births and subsequent health and developmental problems. According to the Center for Disease Control, 46% of babies born as the result of IVF are multiples and 37% of those births are premature. In contrast, only 3% of babies born without fertility help are multiples, and of those only 12% are born prematurely.
As a result, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine are recommending fertility treatment using single embryo transfers. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in a couple’s chances of success. Current techniques available include better screening of embryos, maturing embryos a few days longer to increase viability, and the ability to sample chromosomes of more mature embryos. These techniques coupled with better timing of transfer into the womb makes the odds of success between a single-embryo and a multiple-embryo transfer about the same.
How does acupuncture and Chinese medicine fit into this story? Anyone who has gone through IVF can tell you that it is a financial, physical, and emotional drain. Most couples will do whatever they can to increase their chances of a successful pregnancy in as few rounds of IVF as possible, and this is where acupuncture comes in. Several studies have been conducted on the role of acupuncture in IVF, and that research indicates that acupuncture can positively affect success rates. In one study, receiving acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly increased pregnancy rates (39% acupuncture vs 26% without acupuncture). In another study, acupuncture was shown to be a factor in decreasing ectopic pregnancies among IVF recipients. From the research, it appears that acupuncture doesn’t affect the quality of the embryo, but rather it affects the health of the mother through hormone regulation. For a good summary of the research, go here.
While it may seem that in the numbers game of IVF that the odds have gone down with the recommendation of single-embryo transfers. But that isn’t necessarily the case. By combining more current techniques at the IVF clinic with Chinese medicine at the acupuncture clinic, your odds of success may be better than ever.