Are You Thinking About Starting Yoga to Support Your Fertility?

Are You Thinking About Starting Yoga to Support Your Fertility?

By: Beth Heller

In January, Pulling Down the Moon and Fertility Centers of Illinois will be kicking off a study to look at how yoga for fertility impacts women undergoing medical fertility treatment. In a previous pilot study we found that Pulling Down the Moon’s six week yoga program significantly decreased anxiety in women who were struggling with infertility. This new study will include a control group and an expanded list of outcome measures including pregnancy success. Stay tuned for more details on how to participate in this study as subject recruitment begins mid-month!

While this is very exciting news, some of you may not have a yoga for fertility class in your area. Are you out of luck? For many it may seem daunting to start a yoga practice. So how do you really get this thing going? Looking at pictures of yoga poses and reading the descriptions is one thing, actually starting a yoga practice is another. Well, for your maiden voyage I am going to suggest you actually take yourself to a yoga studio and give it a try with a professional teacher. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my own bias. I just remember the first time I walked into a yoga studio. There was something about the experience that jolted me out of my usual sphere. The funky prints on the walls and strange music felt different – and good. I liked taking my shoes off at the door and the smell of incense still transports me. I can remember how the spicy scent would stay on my mat and follow me home. The whole experience motivated me to learn more, look at pictures of yoga poses …read descriptions. Get where I’m going with this?

It’s OKAY if you don’t have a fertility yoga class near you. While fertility yoga is great, you do not have to go to a Yoga for Fertility class to get the benefits of yoga. I may need to burn this after writing it because it’s so secret, but while working with a fertility yoga teacher is very special, not everyone has such a specialist on hand.

Here is a quick-and-dirty checklist for using (almost) any yoga class as a fertility yoga class:

  • Look for gentle hatha yoga classes (Intro or Level 1 classes are just right).
  • If you’re stimming (taking fertility meds) or in the two week wait period (time between ovulation and pregnancy test) do not do deep twists or deep forward folds. This is not so much about the risks to a potential pregnancy as is it about your ovaries. They can get really big during an ART cycle and we don’t want to injure them. Avoid abdominal work and adjust the class to fit your physician’s guidelines for appropriate physical activity. As for anything else the teacher does, if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.
  • If you’re comfortable telling the teacher you’re doing fertility treatment, do so. If you’re not comfortable telling her than just inform her that you have some movement restrictions and will modify your practice accordingly. Most yoga teachers respect their students’ prerogative to skip poses, modify poses or just lay on the mat and chill if they feel like it
  • Hot yoga and power yoga are not appropriate for fertility. We have nothing against these styles of yoga, they’re just a bit too intense. Save these for getting your post-baby body back.

Now is a great time of year to get a plan for a calm and fertility New Year. Let yoga help make that a reality.

Anna’s News: New Research Supports Acupuncture Point Stimulation & FET Cycle Success

Anna’s News: New Research Supports Acupuncture Point Stimulation & FET Cycle Success

Current research regarding transcutaneous electrical acupuncture point stimulation (TEAS) improves outcomes of patients undergoing frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles. The study concluded that the TEAS treatment group rate of embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy, and live birth were all significantly higher versus the mock TEAS group.* The uterine lining was the same in thickness in both groups but the major difference was that the TEAS treatment group showed a much better quality uterine lining. The TEAS treatment group had a greater endometrial and subendometrial vascularization index on 3D ultrasound and increased endometrial HOXA10 expression which is associated with better endometrial receptivity. Treatment was administered 6 times per month for the 3 months leading up to the FET.

An advantage of using TEAS treatment is that it is a non-invasive way of stimulating the acupuncture points, meaning there are no needles that penetrate the skin. At Pulling Down the Moon we typically incorporate electro-acupuncture which current research supports improves the effectiveness of medicated fertility treatment cycles already into our treatment plan. For patients who are needle sensitive, we can minimize the number of needles used during a treatment by incorporating TEAS on the abdomen. For more information regarding TEAS and how it can help during an IVF cycle please feel free to email me at anna@pullingdownthemoon.com or call our office to speak with one of our acupuncturists.

*http://aim.bmj.com/content/early/2014/10/10/acupmed-2014-010572.short?g=w_aim_ahead_tab

Fertility Acupuncture 101: Treatment Plans

Acupuncture Treatments for IVF cycle

Here’s a disclaimer. Everyone is unique and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based upon the tenet of uniqueness. That said, the most common question we get at Pulling Down the Moon is about a “typical” treatment plan. So, with the caveat that your situation is unique and your practitioner will tailor treatment to suit your needs, here’s a good solid overview of what a typical fertility acupuncture treatment plan looks like.

In your acupuncturist’s ideal world, starting acupuncture treatments at least three months prior to an IVF cycle would provide an optimal preparatory period. During this prep period we will focus generally on your overall health (adjusting lifestyle and dietary practices that lead to imbalance) and specifically on the maturation of the egg.

In the prep period we recommend acupuncture treatments once or twice a week, depending on the amount of time you have before you start your ART cycle. E.g. If you allow yourself about three months before starting IVF, acupuncture treatments once a week will be sufficient until IVF stimulation begins. If you are starting during the birth control phase, about 3-4 weeks prior to IVF stimulation, twice a week until the stimulation is optimal.

Once IVF stimulation begins, you should have at least three to four acupuncture treatments between the first you start you FSH (Gonal-F, Follistim, etc) injections and egg retrieval, based upon your progress. If your response to the stimulation is too fast or too slow, or if you are developing too many or too few follicles, you may benefit from more frequent acupuncture treatments. In rare cases, people may benefit most from daily treatment.

After the egg retrieval it recommended that you have an acupuncture treatment with in a day or two to minimize the bloating, distention, and cramps that can come with egg retrieval. The retrieval is an invasive procedure and acupuncture is very helpful to speed recovery and prepare the uterus for implantation.

On or around the day of embryo transfer, research suggests that two treatments, one before and one after the embryo transfer significantly increase pregnancy rates. We also suggest treatment at least once during the two week wait period to help calm anxiety and promote implantation.

Hopefully at this point you will have a positive pregnancy test. In this case, we recommend acupuncture once a week until the end of the first trimester. If there are any symptoms associated with pregnancy such as morning sickness, bleeding, or pain, you may need to be seen more frequently.

If your IVF cycle is using a donor egg we recommend one acupuncture treatment per week until embryo transfer with the goal of preparing the uterus for implantation. Acupuncture before/after transfer and follow-up treatment is the same as that described above.

Acupuncture Treatments during IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) Cycle

The treatment plan for IUI is similar to that of the IVF cycle, including the preparation period and treatment during stimulation (whether it’s natural, clomid or FSH)

You should have one acupuncture treatment before or after IUI and follow-up treatment as described above.

What’s Good for the Gander: Male preparation

Regardless of the cause of infertility, the science of TCM would recommend that the male partner be treated as well.

It takes about ninety days for sperm to reach maturity. Males with no known pathology should be treated on a weekly basis until sperm is collected for use, preferably beginning at least three months prior to the planned cycle.

For males with known issues, we suggest they start acupuncture treatment as early as possible. Research has shown improvements in all sperm parameters (count, motility, and morphology).

If possible, the male partner should try to have an acupuncture treatment a day before sperm donation.

Beth Heller, MS
Co-Founder
Pulling Down the Moon, Inc.
pullingdownthemoon.com
312-321-0004

Fertility Acupuncture 101: Tools of the Trade – Needles!

So let’s get to the elephant in the fertility clinic waiting room…needles.

Fertility patients are already familiar with needles. It seems like they are everywhere we look – at the doctor’s office when we are getting blood levels for all those confusing hormones, at home when we inject our meds…do we really want to seek them out in our spare time?

The needles used by an acupuncturist are incredibly thin and flexible, more akin to a hair brush bristle than they hypodermic you probably have in mind. Needles are inserted into specific and individualized points in the body to help distribute the flow of energy in the body. Acupuncture needles induce the release of neurotransmitters and endorphin that in turn help to direct blood flow and induce the stress response. Most experience the insertion of these needles as either painless or a slight pinch. Once placed there is often a deep sense of relaxation and rest.

Needles are among the most ancient of TCM tools, the first ones were made with shards of bone. Your practitioner may also use other more modern tools during your sessions. These include the use of electro-stimulation machines to provide greater stimulus through the needles (used extensively in fertility acupuncture to stimulate uterine blood flow) and a special kind of lamp, called a TDP lamp. This light bulb in this lamp emits ultraviolet light through a mineral-coated plate. The therapeutic benefits of TDP treatment are thought to include increases in microcirculation and improved immune response.

In our next blog we will discuss the specific treatment recommendations for different fertility diagnosis.

Ready to start? You can click here to schedule your Initial Fertility Acupuncture Consult with one of our specialists. Have questions? Give us a call at 312-321-0004 (Chicago Area) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro).

New 5th Fertility Enhancing Massage Session: Unwind the Mind™

Here’s a Quick Q&A with Meredith Nathan: Director of Massage, Massage Advisor about our New FEM Session: Unwind the Mind

What is the Fertility Enhancing Massage (FEM) Protocol ™?

  • Fertility Massage is a largely unknown and underdeveloped field. At Pulling Down the Moon we’ve striven to be pioneers of this emerging healing art, and pride ourselves in working with the body in ways that no one else has before. While many would say the primary benefit of massage for fertility is relaxation, we have seen that through blending the best of ancient healing arts with cutting edge massage techniques, easing stress is only the tip of the iceberg of what fertility massage can truly accomplish. In 2008, we took our discoveries from the previous 5 years of working with fertility clients and launched The FEM Protocol ™. Each sessions is designed to target different challenges to fertility, and works hand in hand with the benefits of acupuncture, yoga, nutrition, ART, or with the timing of your natural cycle.

Why did you develop a new fifth session? What is the goal of Unwind the Mind ™?

  • As we initially launched The FEM Protocol ™, we looked for ways to boost fertility and address the body’s challenges to pregnancy. As such, we developed sessions that would work within the follicular phase of a woman’s cycle, and encouraged our clients to avoid massage after ovulation. However, over the last few years a new need became evident: to help relieve the anxiety of the two week wait. Stress does not encourage getting pregnant OR staying pregnant. Unwind the Mind ™ was created to be a safe and gentle oasis from post-ovulation stress, helping to release stagnant emotions, clear the mind, and uplift the spirit. Massage, vibrational therapy, lymphatic massage, aromatherapy, Ayurvedic techniques, and more help to relax the body, enhance fertility, and support a potential pregnancy.

Do the 5 FEM Protocol ™ sessions connect to the 5 Kosha Bodies of yoga?

  • Yes! Pulling Down the Moon’s 5-Body Method ™ is based on a traditional healing model from yoga that works with the koshas. The kosha model says we have 5 bodies, or layers, to our being: the physical body, the energy/breath body, the mental/emotional body, the wisdom body, and the bliss body. Each of the 5 Fertility Enhancing Massage sessions not only address different fertility challenges and different timings in a woman’s cycle, but also correspond to a different kosha body.
    • The Physical Body = Enhance the Blood
    • The Energy/Breath Body = Open the Breath
    • The Mental/Emotional Body = Relax & Integrate
    • The Wisdom Body = Cleanse the Body
    • The Bliss Body = Unwind the Mind

Is the new session safe to receive?

  • Yes! Unwind the Mind ™ was specifically designed for the two week wait, and avoids circulation boosting massage strokes, contraindicated acupoints, and unsafe areas for massage. In fact, many of the points stimulated in this session actually encourage a healthy pregnancy. Unwind the Mind ™ is also safe to receive throughout the first trimester of pregnancy, when normal massage would not be recommended.

Meredith Nathan, Director of Massage and Senior FEM Practitioner at Pulling Down the Moon, is a graduate of Northwestern University as well as the Chicago School of Massage Therapy (now Cortiva Institute). Meredith is nationally certified and continued her education through the Upledger Institute as well as through Prenatal Certification. She lead the development of the FEM (Fertility Enhancing Massage) Protocol after working with hundreds of women seeking to improve their fertility since 2004. Meredith has been highlighted in Conceive Magazine, Conceive on Air, Massage Magazine, and Pulling Down the Moon’s own ‘Fully Fertile’. The daughter of a biophysicist and a craniosacral therapist, she is passionate about blending the best of holistic modalities, grounded in modern medicine and science. As a ‘fertility baby’ herself, Meredith is dedicated to helping other future moms bring new life into the world, and is committed to pushing the boundaries of what massage can do in the world of fertility.

Fertility Acupuncture 101: “What is going to happen at my first appointment?”

As we mentioned in our previous post, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) works to determine the underlying patterns of disharmony in the body and based on your unique pattern your practitioner will provide an individualized treatment plan to help restore your fertility.

There are three assessment tools in the TCM “tool chest:”

Questioning:

You may, in fact, be surprised by the kinds of questions that an acupuncturist will find to be relevant. How quickly you fall asleep, whether you experience changes in your bowel movements prior to getting your period and even the color of menstrual bleeding are all of import. While this may sound like TMI rather than TCM, it’s this careful observation that has led, over thousands of years, to this amazing system and its ability to successfully treat conditions that stymie western medicine including chronic pain, headaches, neurological issues and yes, the most important one for our purposes, fertility.

Observing:

Your practitioner is going to use his or her eyes to assess your complexion, body shape, and most importantly, your tongue. Your practitioner will check your tongue on every visit. The color and texture of your tongue, the way your eyes look and your complexion provide the practitioner valuable information about the root of the imbalance that may be contributing to fertility problems.

Palpation:

Finally, the practitioner uses their sense of touch to assess your pulse at the wrist as well as feel for heat, damp, dryness or coolness in your abdomen, hands and feet.

From this information a treatment will be constructed that meets your needs and is individualized not only on your given pattern of disharmony but also on how you are presenting in the office on that given day. This last element is essential for fertility patients because the phases of the menstrual cycle, or the phases of an IUI/IVF cycle each have a different impact on the body. TCM responds in a fluid and nimble way to these challenges.

In our next post we will discuss some of the concepts that define fertility acupuncture and how they help us support you in your journey.

Ready to start? You can click here to schedule your Initial Fertility Acupuncture Consult with one of our specialists. Have questions? Give us a call at 312-321-0004 (Chicago Area) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro).

Fertility Acupuncture 101: Part 1 When to Get Started?

Over the next few posts we will be providing an overview of how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help support your fertility and help you achieve your goal of becoming pregnant. The aim of these blogs is to address the most common questions fertility patients ask when they call to learn about fertility acupuncture.

The first question we will address is “When should I start fertility acupuncture?”

There is both a short and a long answer to this question. The short answer is that there is no wrong time to start acupuncture when you are trying to conceive. Acupuncture is an individualized treatment and a good acupuncturist will always meet you where you are and provide relief for the immediate symptoms of stress, sleeplessness and physical discomfort that can be a part of the medical fertiliity journey. As you know, when you are going through an IUI or IVF cycle, these acute concerns are often the difference between sanity and complete meltdown…so, if you’re wondering whether acupuncture can help you if you start in the middle of a cycle it most certainly can.

The longer answer to this question is that starting acupuncture earlier in a cycle or when you are on a break is optimal. Ideally, we like to see a patient starting from a few weeks to a few months prior to an upcoming Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) cycle. The reason for this is that TCM and acupuncture treatment are cumulative. As we will explore in our next blog, TCM works by seeking to diagnose where an imbalance in lifestyle or physical health might be impeding fertility. Some ways lifestyle can impede a woman’s ability to conceive include hormonal imbalance due to excess stress, over/underweight, poor diet or an underlying condition such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). In addition, the goal of TCM is to improve the “raw materials” of fertility, including the uterine environment, eggs and sperm. Eggs take about 120 days to go through their maturation process and sperm roughly 90. Starting acupuncture treatment before your cycle is an investment in the quality of these two very important “players” in the fertiliity process.

In our next blog we will discuss the kinds of questions your fertility acupuncturist might ask you at your first session. You may be surprised at how these questions, which are so different from ultrasounds and blood tests, can shed light on the root cause of your fertility struggles.

Ready to start? You can click here to schedule your Initial Fertility Acupuncture Consult with one of our specialists. Have questions? Give us a call at 312-321-0004 (Chicago Area) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro).

Anna’s News: Acupuncture for Labor Prep

Anna’s News: Acupuncture for Labor Prep

Labor and delivery is one of the most intense beautiful life altering events that a woman can experience. One that I have been s o fortunat e to experience thankfully healthfully, twice. I have helped many women, including myself, prepare for labor using acupuncture on a regular basis near the end of the third trimester. Current medical research supports how acupuncture during this time helps in 3 specific ways.* It improves the chances that the patient go into labor closer to the EDD (expected due date), mitigating the need for Pitocin to stimulate labor induction. It reduces the necessity of medical intervention as the rate of cesarean section was decreased. There was also a reduction in epidural rate, indicating that the labors were less painful. I typically recommend weekly acupuncture sessions beginning from week 36 of pregnancy up until your EDD for helping with labor preparation (note not induction). For more information on this topic or to schedule your sessions please feel free to call our office 312-321-0004 or email me at anna@pullingdownthemoon.com .

Anna Pyne LAc MSOM FABORM

*http://www.familyacupunctureandwellness.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Acupuncture-For-Prebirth-Treatment.pdf

Anna’s News: Ear Acupressure Enhances IVF Cycle Outcome!

Anna’s News: Ear Acupressure Enhances IVF Cycle Outcome!

Ear acupressure is a commonly used accessory technique in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that supports the main treatment which is acupuncture and herbs. It is typically likened to ear reflexology as each body part has its own allocated spot on the ear. These ear acupoints can be stimulated in various ways. They can be needled, or the acupuncturist can place a tiny seed or pellet (gold or silver) over the point which adheres to the skin with a band-aid type adhesive. By stimulating an ear acupoint/s you help treat the body part it is associated with.

It is exciting to learn that new research supports the placement of ear seeds at reproductive points, significantly lowers anxiety and improves outcomes when undergoing an IVF cycle.* The ear press seeds were stimulated by the patient throughout the day from around egg retrieval to embryo transfer. The study showed that in the ear acupressure group clinical pregnancy rate, implantation rate, and live birth rate were all significantly higher than the sham ear acupressure group and control group. At Pulling Down the Moon we typically incorporate ear acupressure into our acupuncture sessions with IVF cycles. For more information regarding ear acupressure and how it can help during an IVF cycle please feel free to email me at anna@pullingdownthemoon.com or call our office to speak with one of our acupuncturists.

* http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140522/srep05028/pdf/srep05028.pdf

Set Your Circadian Clock: Yet Another Role for the Bedroom in the Treatment of Infertility

Set Your Circadian Clock:

Yet Another Role for the Bedroom in the Treatment of Infertility

We all know the bedroom is important in the fertility process – but not only for the reason you think. Birds and bees aside, another act takes place in the bedroom that is essential for optimal reproductive function: getting a restful night of sleep. Researchers have known for years that shift work (working nights or rotating day/night shifts) is associated with depression, obesity, breast cancer, menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, infertility, miscarriage and pre-term birth. Now the advent of electronics, backlit reading devices, 24 hour on demand cable, and the overall increased pace of life have put us at risk of chronic sleep deprivation.

The importance of restful sleep for optimal fertility cannot be overlooked. Here are some key facts about sleep and fertility:

The Circadian Clock allows all living beings to anticipate regular, repeating events that happen about the same time each day. In mammals “clock genes” found in two master endocrine glands, the hypothalamus and pituitary, control this rhythm. Hormonal signals from the clock genes in the master glands speak to clock genes in other parts of the body, instructing them how to function in response to the time of day. Our reproductive system is directly tied into the circadian rhythm.

The action of the clock genes is driven by three major input sources:

Light: Research shows individuals re-set their sleep/wake rhythm to match the light and dark patterns around them.

Time: Our cognitive reaction to schedules, clocks and work patterns is strong and can override our natural sleep rhythms.

Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone secreted from the pineal gland that helps regulate our body’s sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm). Melatonin is derived from another important hormone, serotonin. It is produced in response to retinal signals and can cause marked drowsiness. Melatonin rises in the evening and lowers towards dawn.

A good sleep pattern should allow you to fall asleep easily in the evenings and wake up feeling refreshed. If this is not your experience you may not be getting the hormonal and restorative benefits of restful sleep and a natural circadian rhythm.

So what can the sleep-challenged among us do? It is possible to reset your sleep rhythms naturally. The following strategies can help:

  • Try to go to sleep and get up the same time every day, even weekends. Staying up late on Friday and Saturday night makes it hard to hit the hay early on Sunday evening and makes the alarm on Monday seem way to early.
  • Try acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to help improve sleep quality and to relieve insomnia. Acupuncture has other benefits for reproduction so it’s a win/win.
  • Cut out stimulants like caffeine and nicotine as well as alcohol. While alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep it can drastically impair sleep quality as the night goes on.
  • Exercise daily, outside if possible. Exercise ensures that our body and mind are fatigued when we lay our heads down at the end of the day.
  • Get outside, sit as close as possible to the window at work and turn off (or radically dim) that e-reader you use before bed. Exposure to natural light is a wonderful way to reset the circadian clock. Spending too much time inside, exposed to artificial light is disruptive to our natural sleep/wake cycle.
  • Try yoga. Creating a gentle stretching regimen can help you release tension and stimulate your body’s rest, digest and nest signals. Gentle yoga and breathing techniques can help you transition from your hectic life to restful sleep.
  • Consider a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is considered a safe, well-tolerated nutritional supplement and can help with sleep. In addition, studies have shown benefits of melatonin supplementation for male and female fertility. Melatonin alone will not reset the clock but, in conjunction with the strategies above, may help in the retraining process.
  • Try a meditative visualization once you have lied down to fall asleep. Imagine a string coming out of your body and solely breathe to the string. If your mind gets side tracked, catch yourself and say/think “I am supposed to be breathing to the string.” By solely concentrating on this, your breathing will slow down and you will enter into a very relaxed state of mind. As a result, it will be easier to fall asleep.
  1. Gamble, K. Frontiers in Endocrinology, volume 4, article 92.
  2. Eryilmaz, O. J Assist Reprod Genet. Sep 2011; 28(9): 815–820.

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