By Karen Pohlner
In Australia, the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is enjoying growing popularity as couples seek to enhance their fertility using natural methods. News of positive experiences and successful outcomes are spreading as natural, holistic alternatives to conventional medical fertility enhancement (IVF) are sought.
The overwhelming evolutionary purpose of humanity is to reproduce, ensuring survival of the species. As such TCM practitioners are working with a very potent force dwelling within nature. In many cases of medically unexplained infertility it is relatively simple to enhance fertility using TCM treatment and achieve conception.
Fertility is not exclusively a female domain, however women are much more likely to present clinically for fertility enhancement. For this reason this article will focus on female reproductive health.
The perils of age
In the West women are choosing to have babies much later in life and have often taken the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) to achieve this end. This usually happens during their most fertile years, from adolescence to mid thirties.
Unlike men who produce fresh semen daily, women are born with all the eggs that they will need for their entire lifetime. As women age so do their eggs. From late 30’s women’s fertility is in natural decline. For older women who have decided to have children later in life, the combination of reproductive aging and the undesirable side effects of the OCP can have a severe and profound impact on fertility.
If women are looking to give themselves the greatest opportunity of falling pregnant it is advisable that they start trying sooner rather than later and either avoid using the OCP or cease it as soon as possible.
There are two distinct types of TCM fertility treatment, namely pre-conception care and active fertility enhancement.
Pre-conception (up to 12 months prior to pregnancy)
The aim of pre-conception care is to promote optimal gynaecological health in preparation for pregnancy. It is designed to get a woman’s body in the best possible position to fall pregnant, stay pregnant and nourish a baby for the entire pregnancy and beyond.
Falling pregnant is only one aspect of good reproductive health. The next challenge is for women to be able to carry a baby to full term and then breast feed, care for, love, grow and nurture a child from infancy into adulthood.
Pre-conception care should be considered as part of preventative medicine, beginning up to 12 months prior to women consciously attempting to fall pregnant.
To understand the importance of pre-conception health one might consider the analogy of a garden. Imagine that the uterine lining representing the fertile soil that provides the material foundation for the plant, ensuring survival from germination to maturation.
Prudent gardeners know the importance of preparing, tilling and fertilising the soil long before they plant their crop. They understand that the nutrients contained within the soil provide the sustenance for the plants whole life cycle, not just germination. So it is with growing babies. TCM realises the importance of cultivating a rich, nutritious endometrial lining as preparation for providing the nourishing substrate from which new life springs forth.
While Chinese women have a cultural understanding of the merits of pre-conception care, my experience it is that it is a difficult concept to sell to Western women. Typically women considering TCM fertility enhancement have been trying for some time without success and are impatient to fall pregnant quickly. They tend to be reticent to commit to cultivating optimal reproductive health in advance.
Along with acupuncture and herbal medicine, pre-conception care usually involves a combination of diet, lifestyle and exercise modification.
Pre-conception care assumes that a woman is fertile. Its intended outcome is to enhance wellbeing and most women will report an improved sense of wellness and connection with their body as a result of treatment, even though they may not have felt unwell or disconnected beforehand.
Women might also become aware of symptoms that before TCM treatment they believed to be part of their ‘normal’ female cycle and were either unconcerned or unaware that effective treatment was available. Such symptoms might include period pain, PMS or menstrual migraine. Many women are pleasantly surprised by how quickly these symptoms improve with the correct attention.
Helpful hints to enhance fertility:
- Cease OCP as soon as possible
- Address menstrual irregularities sooner rather than later
- Space your children, allowing adequate time for post natal recovery and recuperation
- Reduce stress, practice relaxation, yoga, meditation, have a holiday
- Consider having children in your 20-30’s.
- Nutrition: avoid cold, raw foods and fluids, processed food & junk food
- Regular exercise that is appropriate to your fitness level
- Stop smoking
- Avoid or restrict alcohol intake
- Keep your reproductive organs warm, wear a singlet or a tummy warmer to protect your midriff
There are many schools of thought within TCM. Some practitioners when evolving a fertility treatment plan will insist on treating both partners, some only when clinically necessary. Some will prefer to use one general formula for the duration of the whole menstrual cycle and change it according to how symptoms shift over time. Others will elect to divide the menstrual cycle, usually into four phases and use a different formula for each phase.
The aim of fertility treatment is to increase the likelihood of pregnancy and the intended outcome is pregnancy.
a) Unexplained infertility
Firstly, unexplained infertility is when after a year of unprotected intercourse at ovulation a couple has been unable to conceive and medical evaluation has been unable to determine any abnormalities to explain the reasons behind the infertility.
Even though medical test might hold no explanation, there will commonly be subclinical signs which can be detected by the system of TCM that explai