The Holistic Nurse: Promoting Fertility with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Sorry for the short hiatus, folks! March was a bit of a cluster. But we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming (plus a bonus extra post this month)! Get excited. 🙂

I have written before about my own experiences with acupuncture. Simply put: It has been a godsend over the past three years. I am excited to share a post today by Kendra Ward, a licensed acupuncturist at the Whole Family Wellness Center in Portland, Oregon. Kendra shares with us how acupuncture and herbal medicine can support efforts to promote fertility. As someone who hopes to grow her own family in the near future, I appreciate her words on both professional and personal levels…


Sarah* had been working in the same high-powered job for about ten years before she met her “Mister Right” and decided to move to Portland. Instead of trying to find a similar job after the move, she and her new husband made the decision to start trying for a baby and to live solely on his income for a while. About a year and a half later, they were both feeling frustrated that they had still not conceived and decided to see a fertility specialist. After many tests, no significant problems could be found with either Sarah or her husband, and so a few rounds of Clomid (Clomifene) and IUIs (Iintrauterine Inseminations) were recommended. Wishing that she had more information and support, Sarah started to investigate alternative methods, such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, to help increase her chances at fertility.

Sarah’s story is becoming increasingly common these days. Many of us know couples that have struggled with having a baby or perhaps you have even struggled yourself. Reproduction is one of our bodies’ main agendas, a fundamental drive to continue our family line, either consciously or unconsciously. Add into this mix all of our societal and cultural expectations, especially in a day and age when women feel like they should be able to achieve it all: career, wealth, and children. Yet when one actively starts trying to have a child, and month after month goes by with not a sign of pregnancy (as in Sarah’s case), the emotional stress can begin to take its toll. Depression among infertile women has been found to be just as intense as depression experienced by those with life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and AIDS.1 The irony is that this perpetuates a cycle in which depression further contributes to infertility.

Many women are able to break this cycle of depression with knowledge and support, and by having a fertility plan of action. Because every couple has a unique story, with different belief systems and varied health histories, these plans may or may not include ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology). Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine are useful during any stage in a couple’s plan, and can be used alone or in conjunction with ART. In this article, I would like to address a few basic ideas about how couples can add to and improve on their fertility plan of action, no matter where they are in their journey to have a baby.

Once a couple has made the huge, life-changing decision to become parents, often they want to become pregnant and they want it now, especially if they have waited a little later in life to start trying. Because there is so much focus on the act of getting pregnant, there is often little thought put into the rest of the pregnancy, such as the health of the mother while pregnant, the ease of her birth, or her postpartum wellness. By taking a little extra time now to examine what imbalances exist, you may actually end up shortening the time you are trying to have a child, while also promoting better health for you and your baby further in the future. If you are at the point of considering ART, it especially makes sense to have your body be in the best health possible, with the highest quality of eggs and sperm possible, before taking on the costly investment of IUI or IVF (In vitro fertilization).

Because our bodies cannot be forcibly rushed into harmony, this process of re-establishing balance may take some time. If you think about how long you have maintained patterns of poor diet, stress, emotional imbalance, or menstrual irregularities, to name a few examples, then it makes sense that our bodies are not able to re-balance overnight. I generally encourage couples to take at least three months to explore acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, as well as diet and lifestyle changes, to achieve the best results possible. And in most cases, I encourage both partners to take on these life changes together for total support. At the very least, this type of life change may lead to an enhanced sense of emotional and physical well-being.

Making the most of this time to rediscovering balance may include:

  •  Acupuncture: The insertion of hair-fine needles to build what is too weak and disperse what is too strong so that your body is able to come into balance on its own.
  •  Chinese Herbal Medicine: If needed, Chinese herbal medicine in the form of pills, tablets, or teas are used to help support acupuncture.
  •  Lifestyle changes to enhance fertility: Could include exercises like yoga for fertility, tai qi, qi gong, counseling, life coaching, visualization, or meditation.
  •  Dietary recommendations: Typically tailored to your individual needs and dependent upon your unique dietary patterns and habits.
  •  Other supportive therapies, such as naturopathic care, massage, chiropractic, etc.

These types of therapies are recommended for all types of couples, from those who are just starting to think about trying, to those who have been trying for years.  In Sarah’s case, she was hesitant to take time away from ART because she felt that her window of opportunity was rapidly closing at age 38. But when we discussed taking just three months to help improve the effectiveness of the IUI’s, she agreed to make some changes. Sarah began weekly acupuncture, started a personalized Chinese herbal formula, increased the amount of times she walked during the week, and picked up a few fertility yoga classes. She also started some basic relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and visualization. Sarah went to a naturopathic physician to have some of her lingering health concerns addressed, as well as to gain extra guidance with her diet. Her husband made similar life changes in order to support Sarah, as well as address some of his own poor health habits. When Sarah had success with only her first IUI after taking this break, she was so impressed that she continued with these life changes throughout her pregnancy. Sarah’s pregnancy progressed without complications and both her and her husband were delighted and grateful to welcome a healthy baby boy into their family.

Kendra Ward is a licensed acupuncturist and board certified herbalist practicing in Portland, Oregon. Kendra has a special interest in women’s health and infertility. She focuses her practice on all transitions in a woman’s life, from the first menstrual cycle to beyond menopause. Please visit her at www.wholefamilywellnesscenter.com.

1 Barbieri RL, Domar AD, Loughlin KR 2006, 6 Steps to Increased Fertility, Simon and Schuster, New York.

*Name changed for confidentiality purposes

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