More than six million couples are diagnosed with infertility, and more than nine million are seeking treatment for infertility in the US each year. These numbers are staggering and they’ve been progressively getting worse for decades.
There is a complex array of contributing factors involved. Among them are the many stressors we find in modern life including environmental toxins, high stress, poor diet, sleep issues, and lifestyle choices. Other factors include low sperm counts, infections or scarring in reproductive organs, and hormonal irregularities. Add to all this the rising number of couples waiting longer to start a family, and we have a much more challenging reproductive landscape than ever before.
In response to this, over the past few decades the biomedical community has evolved to provide assisted reproductive technology (ART), most commonly, in-vitro fertilization (IVF). ART utilizes advanced, high-tech diagnostic tools, surgeries, and pharmacological treatments that, when successful, yield fast and dramatic results; they’re also quite expensive and can be physiologically and psychologically intense for couples.
In contrast, over thousands of years traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) TCM identifies where elements of our physiology are out of sync or where pathology creates imbalance, and it works to bring them back into harmony using relatively gentle tools like acupuncture and herbal medicine. By achieving this harmony, TCM encourages the body and mind to heal itself naturally. For the vast majority of less severe infertility cases, it provides a time-tested, effective, and far less invasive option. ART and TCM can be used together in a true integrative model.
From the perspective of TCM, the preparation for conception is similar for most couples; then with careful diagnosis, we differentiate individual patterns and treatment strategies. Even while consulting a TCM fertility specialist, however, you should allow at least a three-month preparation period before trying to conceive, naturally or with ART, to build health and good habits in both parents.
Here are seven preparation strategies for any couple trying to conceive:
1. Understand your menstrual cycle. This is the foundation of a woman’s health and is especially critical in treating infertility. An acupuncturist will want to know the length of the cycle and menstrual flow; the color, quality, and quantity of the blood and cervical mucus; and any other symptoms related to the cycle. A basal body temperature (BBT) chart or app will help both you and your acupuncturist track and regulate your cycle.
2. Control your weight. Whether you’re over or under your ideal weight, even a small loss or gain in body fat can have positive effects on fertility.
3. Get high quality nutrition and supplementation. Be sure to fill your plate with organically or locally sourced whole foods, drink enough filtered water, and avoid highly processed or refined foods. When choosing your prenatal supplements, use pharmaceutical grade (which is an even higher quality than organic) or high-quality whole foods brands.
4. Get daily, moderate exercise. Both too intense and non-existent exercise can be problematic. Often 30 minutes of walking or jogging each day is enough. In addition, mindfulness-based practices like yoga, qi gong, and tai chi are wonderful ways to move the body while reducing stress.
5. Get more sleep. Aiming for at least 7 hours is good, but 8-9 hours is best. You may need to rearrange some of your morning or evening routines to help build this into your day, and if you struggle with insomnia, acupuncture can help.
6. Find ways to manage stress. Things like meditation, visualization, and mindfulness practices help to calm the mind. Other ideas include massage, yoga, acupuncture, spending time in nature, or doing the things you love.
7. Avoid toxins. Try to avoid as many environmental toxins as you can: drink filtered water, eat organic, find ways to purify the air in your home, and reduce toxins in the personal products you use. In addition, avoiding or limiting alcohol, caffeine, and unnecessary medications (always check with your doctor first), while eliminating smoking and recreational drug use, is critical while trying to conceive.
Collectively, these steps used in collaboration with your TCM practitioner and/or your ART doctor will amount to nothing if you haven’t created space in your life for parenthood. Ask yourself: “Do I have the time and energy for a child?” Now is the time to look at your life and make changes to prepare for this new chapter by aligning your thinking and your actions with your desire to bring a child into your world.
Tina Grinold, L.Ac, MAOM, is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and women’s health specialist. She works with women to balance hormones naturally and restore vital health, no matter their stage of life. Tina is thrilled to announce she’s seeing patients in two locations: Balanced Health Center for Integrative Women’s Healthcare in Glastonbury, CT & Able Hands Chiropractic in Tolland, CT. Contact Tina directly for more information or to schedule an appointment: email@example.com; 860-268-2092.