Fertility and Conception: It’s Not Too Late

If a woman tries to get pregnant and is not successful within the normal expected amount of time according Western medical standards, this often kicks off a vicious cycle of stress that can be nightmarish—and also counterproductive to the end goal of baby-making. Let’s take a look at how that story often goes, and how we can change it! 

When you see getting pregnant as being about success or failure, it increases your stress and anxiety from the get-go. From there, you pray that your egg releases from an ovary on the 14th day every month (because that’s what science says is normal), have intercourse on a strict schedule (so unsexy!) and then embark on the dreaded waiting period. Anxiety arises just with the thought of taking another pregnancy test, for fear of a negative reading, like getting a bad grade at school. 

If that doesn’t work for a few months or a year, you might make an appointment with a fertility doctor. In the typical approach, you’ll be told about scary statistics, subjected to invasive tests, and asked to conduct incessant early morning monitoring—blood tests and an internal ultrasound at 7 a.m.! That usually involves two or three appointments during the first two weeks of your cycle to follow the development of ovarian follicles. Depending on your age, you may be told you waited too long to start having a family. I’m already shaking my head on your behalf, gurrrrrl!

This is horrendous! No wonder women going through all forms of infertility often deal with high stress and all the health problems that come with it. The pressure of expecting your body to perform based on an exact science misses the importance of emotional support and well-being. Post-traumatic stress is commonly associated with the exhaustion of dealing with fertility challenges. 

In Chinese medicine, emotional well-being for reproduction is absolutely paramount. This is especially important for women going through IVF treatment, which is super intense and demanding in every way. I’m constantly dumbfounded by how little importance Western medicine places on the need for emotional support for women, especially when going through fertility issues. This kind of robotic and cold way of dealing with women’s reproductive health makes me want to shower my patients with my own comforting maternal energy!

So let me give you some reassurance and some fresh perspectives from Chinese medicine.

First, let’s talk about pregnancy and age for a minute.

Western doctors tend to see age as a significant factor in pregnancy. They have established an ideal time for conception based on general population standards. But the reality is that women aged 40 to 49 are the fastest growing group of women starting to conceive. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Births among women ages 40-44 have been rising since the early 1980s and kept rising in 2017, even as the overall U.S. birth rate fell to a record low. ... Births in women older than 45 held steady.”

Whether it’s based on wanting to wait for the right person, establish a successful career or reach a certain stage of emotional maturity, lots of women have very good reasons to wait. And they shouldn’t be made to feel they have to rush into pregnancy before the age of 30 at all costs. Don’t let anyone belittle you for waiting “too long”! 

I have good news for you. Chinese medicine can help women’s reproductive organs to flourish by establishing better Qi balance, so you don’t have to race against time for fear of missing your window.

Calendar age and Qi age are different. Kidney essence and Qi determine how easy it will be for you to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy to term. Even though a woman’s calendar age may be 38, after proper Qi-building techniques, her Qi age may drop back as low as 29, with plenty of Qi essence available for all fertility- and pregnancy-related requirements. For example, for a woman with the calendar age of 39, her menstrual cycle may be irregular, and she may have weakness of the lower back and knees, and greying hair. When the kidney essence levels are improved, these symptoms are commonly reversed.

In my practice, I’ve helped women ages 24 to 48 conceive, go through healthy pregnancies and become happy mommies. My patients have been able to conceive once the focus was shifted away from obsessive monitoring and toward Qi alignment and improving all facets of their health.

Getting pregnant requires preparation, and preparation takes time.

It takes 100 days for the female body to prepare and release a new egg, which is why pre-conception treatment is so important. This means you need to build and strengthen your reproductive system for a minimum of three months before conception, in order to have that golden egg ready for the big event. There’s no need to rush the process! 

Think about all of the toxicity and Qi stagnation that has been building for all the years you’ve never worked on your uterus from a TCM standpoint. The more time it takes to conceive, the more of a foundation you’ll have to support the actual pregnancy and everything that comes after it, such as postpartum recovery, breastfeeding, regaining hormonal balance and enjoying quality of life. 

So the work we do in Chinese medicine isn’t just about getting that egg fertilized as soon as humanly possible. It’s about making sure you have fantastic eggs in the first place, and paving the way so the sperm can find that golden egg! We need your body to be well in order to both get pregnant and have a strong and healthy pregnancy. The TCM process works to optimize your health throughout the entire pregnancy, so it can be an enjoyable and uneventful experience. It’s about building that golden palace in your uterus to ensure a happy tenant stays for nine months.

So what does Chinese medicine do to help you get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy? 

Chinese medicine can help support a woman through this important time in her life, both emotionally and physically. 

When you’re trying to get pregnant, acupuncture helps to restore normal hormone function to regulate menstrual cycles and improve the rate of ovulation. The excess cortisol that comes with stress can disrupt hormone levels and the pituitary balance, which are key to the reproductive cycle; acupuncture helps reduce stress and counter its effects by releasing endorphins in the brain. It also helps to increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, balance the endocrine system, and address the fertility effects of an  over- or under-functioning thyroid. In fact, acupuncture can be used to treat most types of fertility disorders, including spasmed tubes.

Also, when used in conjunction with intrauterine insemination (IUI), a fertility treatment that usually precedes IVF, acupuncture increases conception rates by 26%. A 2012 study from Tel Aviv University reports, “When combining IUI with TCM treatments, 65.5 percent of the test group were able to conceive, compared with 39.4 percent of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy.” For the 4.5 million couples experiencing infertility each year, acupuncture may be just what the doctor ordered.

But acupuncture can help with much more than just conception. Once you’re pregnant, it can also help with morning sickness, nausea, aches and pains (low back pain, for example), constipation, heartburn, edema, anxiety, preparation for birth, and insomnia, along with just about any other pregnancy-related issue! Toward the end of pregnancy, it also helps to improve blood flow to the uterus to aid in softening the cervix and stimulating gentle uterine contractions.

After birth, acupuncture also aids in post-partum recovery and hormonal restoration, and improves lactation and breast duct circulation. Basically, acupuncture can help ease your way at every stage of the process!

One last note about boundaries.

One thing some women start to experience after a certain age is nosy relatives asking whether you plan to hurry up and have babies. Just remember, it’s your uterus, your timing, your Qi—and your choices about pregnancy are incredibly personal and private. You don’t owe answers to anyone but yourself, so don’t let pushy people make you feel bad! Instead, ask yourself what insecurities that person must have about themselves to be asking you personal questions about your uterus and your life! 

Don’t waste your precious Qi on worrying about what anyone else thinks. And if ever you choose to get pregnant, just remember, you deserve the best possible care—and my needles and I are here to help.

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Rachel Ott