Deciding to become pregnant is a big decision. For some women, making the decision is the easy part, especially if becoming pregnant becomes challenging and doesn’t happen as planned. For those who need help conceiving there are a number of assisted reproductive procedures, such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and frozen egg transfer (FET).
There are several similarities and a few key differences between IVF and FET. Both involve the transfer of embryos that have been created by combining sperm with eggs that have been retrieved from the ovaries in a clinical setting and then implanting one or more into the uterus. IVF uses fresh embryos, and FET uses embryos that have been created previously and frozen for a period of time, sometimes even for many years. There are some benefits and reasons for going the frozen embryo route, including:
- In many instances, not all the embryos are used during fresh implantation of IVF, and those embryos that are left can be frozen and used at a later date.
- Implanting at a later date with a frozen embryo means that hormones that have been ramped up to stimulate the ovaries have time to return to normal. These stimulating hormones may cause the uterine lining to become less favorable to implantation so taking a break and using frozen embryos translates into a healthier uterine lining that may be more welcoming to implantation.
- If there is any question of genetic issues, freezing embryos allow for genetic testing of the embryos before implantation. This is known as preimplantation genetic testing (PGT).
- A newer technique in freezing of embryos, called vitrification, reduces the risk of degradation of frozen embryos. There is some indication that with this method, the success rate with frozen transfers is higher than for fresh transfer. That’s not because freezing improves the embryo, but taking the time for a woman’s hormones to recover and the lining of her uterus to become better prepared for implantation may be beneficial to the process.
It’s common to hear a lot about how well acupuncture and can support women going through IVF, but not as much about the benefits of these modalities for women who are undergoing frozen egg transfer. However, the reality is that acupuncture is just as beneficial for women undergoing a frozen transfer as for those doing IVF. Several research studies have produced a body of knowledge on how acupuncture helps increase the chance of a successful implementation during both fresh and frozen embryo transfers.
- Acupuncture provides increased blood flow to the reproductive organs. This enhanced circulation of blood and vital nutrients to the ovaries and uterus can help not only with the ovarian response, but also by making the uterus healthier and more receptive to implantation.
- Acupuncture helps to improve the quality of eggs collected through increased circulation, better hormone balance, reduced inflammation and even stress reduction.
- Hormonal balance is improved with acupuncture, which helps with ovarian stimulation, regulating the menstrual cycle and preparing the uterus for implantation and pregnancy.
- During embryo transfer, acupuncture is helpful in increasing chances of a successful implantation by calming the uterus and reducing contractions.
- Acupuncture helps to reduce anxiety during what can be a very stressful time. It’s well-known that acupuncture can relieve stress, anxiety and produce a sense of calm, all of which can help the process go more smoothly.
- Acupuncture is beneficial in resolving health issues that may negatively impact conception and pregnancy. Many women choose to begin acupuncture treatments to support their health weeks or months before they begin trying to become pregnant, either naturally or through assisted techniques.
Your acupuncturist may combine their acupuncture treatments with painless electrical stimulation of the needles, or stimulate points with something called a microcurrent, milli amp, or tens machine. This involves gentle stimulation of acupuncture points with a device that provides a mild electric current to the skin at the chosen acupuncture points. One study found that electrostimulation can be effective in priming the ovaries to produce more and better quality eggs and to increase uterine receptivity. Another study concluded that women who had electrostimulation prior to undergoing frozen embryo transfers had a higher rate of implantation, pregnancy and live births.
Another treatment your acupuncturist may offer that has gained recognition recently is the use of a low level laser, also called cold laser therapy or photobiomodulation. Cold laser uses low intensity light to gently produce changes deep within your body’s tissues, at the cellular level. Cold laser therapy penetrates deeply without heating up or damaging your skin, unlike higher powered lasers. The beauty of cold laser therapy is that the energy emitted is absorbed by your cells, which causes increased vascularity and circulation to the area, promotes cell growth, and helps to rebalance chemical processes critical to tissue healing and regeneration. Its use in reproductive health is well-established. Cold laser therapy has been used successfully in improving egg quality, especially in older women, treating PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), endometriosis and in supporting women who are undergoing fertility treatments.
If you are working to resolve health issues that may impact your ability to become pregnant, your acupuncturist may also prescribe an herbal formula. There are a wide variety of herbs in the Chinese formulary with dozens of different actions—any of which can augment and support acupuncture or any other treatments that you may be undergoing. Choose a practitioner that is thoroughly trained in Chinese herbology, has years of experience and is well-versed in reproductive health.
During the fertility journey, your body will undergo a number of changes and challenges. The bottom line is that your acupuncture provider can support your journey in a number of ways. If you’d like to know more about how acupuncture can play a positive role in Frozen Embryo Transfer, other assisted procedures, becoming naturally or your health during pregnancy, please contact me.