10/10/2014 08:54 BST | Updated 09/12/2014 05:59 GMT

Acupuncture to Support Fertility, Conception and Recurrent Miscarriage

I feel really passionate about the patients that I see suffering with the loss of their baby through miscarriage and particularly those suffering from recurrent miscarriage. It is documented that 1-in-4 women has had at least one miscarriage, which equates to around a quarter of a million women in the UK each year. Recurrent miscarriage is defined as three consecutive miscarriages; this affects approximately 1 in 100 women. Using acupuncture and counselling to help women who experience the heartbreak of recurrent miscarriages to conceive, is one of the most rewarding parts of my work.

Miscarriage can be a result of genetic, hormonal, immunological, physiological, anatomical or environmental factors. Recurrent miscarriage may also be linked with blood clotting disorders. Acupuncture is believed to help improve blood flow to the uterus and energy to the reproductive organs, balance the body, build up the womb lining, grow follicles and help with implantation. As an accredited counsellor, patients are often referred to me by their GP. In many cases, this is less about the physical benefit of acupuncture and more to help with the psychological impact of miscarriage.

Most of my patients suffering from miscarriage are not pregnant at the time of our first session. So I spend the time counselling them to help them deal with their loss. When the patient feels emotionally ready, we will embark on creating a new pregnancy. After considering all the different factors that may have contributed to the miscarriage or recurrent miscarriages, I will then see the patient once a week to administer acupuncture treatment, while continuing the psychological support. Getting pregnant is usually not the issue in these cases, it is, of course, keeping the pregnancy that seems to be trickier.

Acupuncture has also been found to reduce the risk of miscarriage when undergoing IVF. A study reported in 2006, found that only 8% of mothers who had acupuncture miscarried compared to 20% of mothers who did not receive acupuncture. In fact, acupuncture is now commonly used as part of an holistic approach to complement IVF treatment. Another study carried out in 2002, found that when doctors combined acupuncture and IVF the success rate increased from 26% to 43%.

It is also widely accepted that acupuncture is useful in reducing stress and improving optimism as it can change cortisol and prolactin levels, which are indicative of stress. Stress is considered a major implication in infertility, when couples have tried for many years to conceive and particularly when undergoing IVF, which is an extremely stressful procedure. Daily injections, blood tests, ultrasounds, painful surgical procedures and the ongoing possibility of failure can place an enormous strain on the patient and their partner. In fact, many women feel they are unable to repeat the process if a cycle fails.

So, while we are not yet able to claim acupuncture as directly responsible for a successful outcome, its benefits in reducing anxiety and increasing calmness will leave many patients feeling more in control and optimistic, and for those undergoing IVF, more able to cope with the invasive treatments and the possibility of multiple cycles.

A preliminary pilot study of 8 women in the US looked at the women's perception of using acupuncture during IVF. Each of the women believed the potential for acupuncture to help them to conceive was high. The two patients who became pregnant felt acupuncture had helped them, while those remaining childless stated acupuncture helped them cope.

During each treatment, an acupuncturist takes the patient's pulses, to access, amongst other things, energy flow. Recently one of my clients said to me "When you tell me that my pulse is strong and everything feels fine I feel so reassured." I believe that having someone there to reassure that this pregnancy can make it, is vital.

Research sources include:

Miscarriage Association

Nicholas M & Taranisi M 3 Steps to Fertility (2006 Carroll & brown publishers LTD UK)

Research papers found on PubMed for a paper written for the Zita West Clinic entitled Acupuncture and Fertility

Research carried out in 2002 on a total of 160 healthy women undergoing either IVF or ICSI by Paulus, W. E., Zhang, M., Strehler, E., El-Danasouri, I. and Sterzik, K. (2002). Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertility and Sterility 77, 721-724.

Margerelli, P. C., Cridennda, D. K. and Cohen, M. (2009). Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment. Fertility and Sterility 92, 1870-1879.

de Lacey Sheryl, S. C. (2009). Building resilience: A preliminary exploration of women's perceptions of the use of acupuncture as an adjunct to In Vitro Fertilisation. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 9.