When you're struggling with fertility issues, it's easy to consider doing anything to try to increase your chances of conception.
This can make alternative medicine seem an attractive option, especially acupuncture as a way to boost the effectiveness of IVF.
But does it really help?
A 2016 study by Homerton University Hospital, in London, says yes, reporting that rates of IVF treatment success were twice as high among women who added alternative therapies to their overall treatment.
At Monash IVF, a network of fertility clinics based in Australia, the use of acupuncture is accepted as a viable option to help increase success rates with IVF treatment. In particular, the clinic notes, acupuncture has been shown to help lower stress levels.
"Ideally patients will have a weekly visit with the acupuncturist for a month prior to the embryo transfer taking place," states the clinic's website, which notes that regular appointments will help patients get familiarized with how the treatment works and allow a practitioner time to correct any imbalances.
Listen: Deb Knight did 14 rounds of IVF and then had a baby naturally. I Don't Know How She Does It, a podcast from our sister site Mamamia, discusses.(Post continues after audio...)
As well as weekly acupuncture in the lead-up to treatment, the clinic recommends having two treatments on the day of embryo transfer: one immediately before and one immediately after.
"If you are about to begin your IVF cycle and haven’t left time for the lead-up treatment, using acupuncture on the day of transfer only will still improve your chances of a positive pregnancy outcome," the clinic states, adding that "in cases where there is a history of miscarriage, one or two treatments in the weeks following may also be recommended."
And yet, not all doctors see a direct connection between alternative therapies and conception.
Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynecologist at Hammersmith Hospital told The Telegraph, for example, that it is still unclear whether the benefits of acupuncture come from the actual treatment or from a placebo effect it offers some patients.
"There is a patient demand and a patient interest in the field of acupuncture and probably in the area of traditional Chinese medicine overall," he said. "But the area is sadly lacking in rigorous prospective randomized assessment."
“The weakness of this study is that you can’t control for the placebo effect," he said. "Patients are often looking for someone who can give them time and listen to what’s going on in their lives and that may have some therapeutic benefit."
Jane Lyttleton, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner who works in partnership with IVF clinics, agreed that more research is needed to understand how acupuncture works.
"It may be that acupuncture increases blood flow to the lining of the uterus, creating a better environment for the embryo to grow," she told the Sydney Morning Herald. "It may lower levels of stress hormones or that by having a calming effect on a woman's immune system, it may reduce the chances of her body rejecting the pregnancy."
As with all medical decisions, always consult a doctor or healthcare professional to determine what's best for you.
This post originally appeared on Mamamia, Spring.St's Australian sister site. You can read it here.