Hi, I’m Rachel Sherriff and I’m an acupuncturist specialising in fertility and pregnancy. For anyone not familiar with acupuncture, it’s a treatment that involves inserting fine needles at certain sites around the body for therapeutic and preventative purposes, and to support health and wellbeing.
I came to acupuncture through my own fertility journey when I had acupuncture throughout my last successful round of IVF and then again after the birth of my son. I found it so beneficial that I retrained to become an acupuncturist and set up The Fertility Suite, based in Oxted, Surrey. We support many couples on the path to parenthood, which can look very different for everyone! In this article, I’ll explain how acupuncture works and how it can be used to optimise fertility and support health and wellbeing throughout pregnancy.
The science bit
Acupuncture is one of those things that, unless you have actually tried it, can be hard to understand how it actually works. Acupuncture is rooted in both eastern medicine and science. Your body is one big electro-magnetic field and it sends messages from one part to another to make it function correctly. The nervous system is the main way it does this. When you insert an acupuncture needle into an acupuncture point you are affecting the local nervous system. This then sends a message to the Central Nervous System (the brain). From here, your brain send signals to your body's other systems, such as your digestive system, your reproductive systems and your endocrine system, which looks after your hormones.
I often liken acupuncture to a tube map; in acupuncture we talk about meridians which are different pathways used to connect different parts of the body. These pathways could be the different tube lines and the acupuncture points are the stations. They are areas where different meridians meet and cross and things can get stuck or not move properly.
Acupuncture, fertility, and pregnancy
Acupuncture has been shown to improve blood flow to the uterus and pelvic cavity and reduce pain in conditions such as endometriosis or painful periods. For fertility, it works on something called the hypothalamic pituitary ovarian axis, which is the communication between the brain and the ovary. This means we can help to affect your hormone balance and therefore your overall reproductive health. Studies have also shown that when acupuncture was used alongside an IVF cycle, there was a 50% increase in the live birth rate!
In early pregnancy, acupuncture has been shown to help reduce symptoms and severity of hyperemesis gravidum. It can also be used in later pregnancy for a natural induction for women who want to avoid a medical induction, and to turn breech babies. In fact, it is often recommended by many midwives nowadays.
Diagnosis in Chinese Medicine
We are masters at observing your body, we will take your pulse, look at your tongue and feel certain areas of your body. For example, for fertility we will always feel your lower abdomen. We are checking for temperature changes in different areas, areas of tension or pain, and looking at the colour of the skin. We then use all of the information your body has given us and combine it with the information we have from a western medicine perspective and formulate a bespoke treatment plan for you. An acupuncturist will select acupuncture points to use based on what they want to tell your body to do. Your body is actually doing all the work, we are just nudging it to do what we think it needs to do.
What to expect
At your first appointment, we will usually talk for around 40-minutes as there will be lots of questions we want to ask. We then move on to the diagnostics and you will get to relax on the couch. Once we have decided on a treatment plan we will talk you through the process of acupuncture. It normally involves inserting between 6 -16 or so needles in different parts of your body. These are very fine thin needles and are pain free. You may feel a heavy dull sensation and start to relax.
Once the needles are all set, we will wrap you up as much as we can with blankets to keep you warm and then let you relax for around 20-minutes. We tend to play relaxing music and if you would like an eye mask, then that often allows you to completely switch off and rest. For those of you in later pregnancy, we will make sure you are comfortable using our pregnancy support pillows!
After the appointment we would advise that you take it fairly easy, no strenuous exercise, heavy meals or alcohol. You may feel a little tired but normally after a good sleep most women feel more energised the next day.
In order to optimise your fertility or support your pregnancy, we recommend having weekly treatments over a three-month period. This is because it takes three months for your eggs to be recruited and matured before they are ovulated, so this time-frame is how we have the most benefit. We also see the best improvements in patients who attend weekly sessions. As a minimum, we recommend once in each part of your cycle. Our packages take these time-frames into account so we can give you the best chance of success!
For those of you in early pregnancy, if you have a history of early miscarriage, we would recommend weekly sessions up to around 12-weeks. We would recommend that women in the later stages of pregnancy, who want to prepare for birth, start treatment weekly from around 35-weeks gestation.
Find out more
You can read more about all of our packages here. We offer packages to support natural fertility, IVF, recurrent miscarriage, unexplained infertility, and pregnancy. Once you have decided which package would be best for you, select your package, make the initial payment, and then choose a day and time for your initial consultation. We also offer individual sessions if you would prefer. If you would like to have a chat before you commit then you can book a free 15-minute call with us here. If you are not based in Surrey but would still like to benefit from our fertility expertise then we also offer online consultations which you can book here.