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Acupuncture - is it really worth it?

(20 Posts)
merricat Wed 21-Jan-15 14:48:10

Hi all. I'm due to start IVF in the next month or two; I have Stage IV endo, PCO, POR, and lots of fun things like that. I turn 30 next week.

I've tried acupuncture twice so far while TTC, but neither for long enough to get 'the benefit' (quotation marks because I'm still a bit sceptical about it all). My first practitioner was a well-meaning Chinese lady, and my second was an English ex-midwife-now-acupuncturist recommended to me on a local infertility forum. I'm naturally quite sceptical when it comes to alternative medicine, and while I do try to keep an open mind, it didn't help that this lady got very woo on me early on - she asked about my medical history and I told her my father had died, and that I never met him, and she brought this up with me while I was lying full of needles, to tell me that I should go and see a spiritualist who could help me contact him, proceeding to give lots of examples of why spiritualists and psychics are really genuine and know things they couldn't have guessed etc etc. The whole thing made me profoundly uncomfortable, and left me thinking that if she believes that (and pushes it onto people) then maybe the acupuncture is just tea leaves and crystal skulls too.

I know I shouldn't let that incident colour my judgement, but I can't shake it - perhaps because I was already skeptical about it to begin with. The medical literature I've read seems to suggest that there is 'no evidence' that acupuncture does anything to help infertile women other than hep them relax. So why does everyone seem to swear by it? I'm aware that the infertility industry is huge and wants to promise us the world in return for a fee. I suspect that acupuncturists play into that. I'm not wealthy, and £40-£50/hour is a lot of money to me, to spend on something that I don't particularly enjoy.

And yet, and yet, and yet. I feel as though by not having acupuncture I'm not doing enough. Everyone I know from infertility communities has it, and wouldn't dream of stopping until they get their babies. I worry that if the IVF fails, I will blame myself for not paying up for acupunture. At the same time, I don't want to run up a credit card bill on acupuncture when the logical side of my brain knows that there is 'no evidence' that it will help beyond what cheaper things - like walking in the woods and doing yoga - would do just as well. But would so many people - intelligent people I admire - really do it if it was just bunk?

Sorry for the essay. I'm just so conflicted on this topic!

Apologies for any typos.

BatteryPoweredHen Wed 21-Jan-15 15:52:32

There is no evidence to prove that acupuncture has any effect on the outcomes of assisted reproduction.

Personally, I believe it to be snake oil, and actually have some ethical issues with 'practitioners' taking money from vulnerable infertile women when they have no evidence of the efficacy of their wares.

I always remind myself that the only difference between mainstream medicine and alternative therapies is that the former has been proven to work, whereas the latter has not.

merricat Wed 21-Jan-15 16:56:37

Thank you, yes that's basically my view as well, and that's why I have such an issue with it. During my (brief) treatment, I was resenting paying money to feel like a bit of a dupe each week, on the off chance it would 'work' - because of course at this stage I'm willing to try anything, and there are plenty of people out there who will happily profit from my desperation. And I can see why - the infertility market must make up a large chunk of acupunturists' business. And then there's Zita West, the supposed infertility guru, who has an army of her own trained acupuncturists, whom so many people - educated, non-superstitious people - visit at great expense. My conflict is a logic v. 'but look at all these people' one.

Because whenever discussion of acupuncture pops up on pregnancy and fertility forums, pretty much everyone says 'it worked for me', 'I started acupuncture after five years TTC and got pregnant the next month', etc etc. This is all anecdotal and unscientific but it inevitably leads to doubt and worry - am I not doing enough, am I ruining my chances if I stop going etc etc. It's a self-selecting set of people who are going to reply positively though, I suppose. But it's perfectly designed to scare and bamboozle people like me confused

Anyone else?

merricat Wed 21-Jan-15 17:09:47

^ And on that subject, I've just noticed a thread very similar to that from two days ago, about how acupuncture 'works miracles'. I'm happy for those who feel it has helped them, but I'm much less keen on the concomittant psychological pressure to try it / stick with it / don't give up.

BatteryPoweredHen Wed 21-Jan-15 17:09:48

The trouble is, infertility makes us all (well me certainly) clutch at any straws we can find. It makes us vulnerable and prone to doubting ourselves; it's just so visceral.

It is precisely this that the acupuncture/alternative therapy brigade play on and exploit in a manner I find deeply unpleasant.

I would advise looking only at hard, clinical facts and just ignoring individual stories, heartwarming as they may be.

Or, if you want an individual story you are welcome to hang onto - the night before I had ET, DH and I stayed in London and went on the most spectacular drinking session as our (hopefully) last hurrah. I rocked up to my clinic the next morning with one of the worst hangovers of my life and was begging them to take me down for my General Anesthetic ASAP just to put me out of my hungover misery.

You won't get Zita West advocating that one, but the cycle worked and I am 12 weeks pg as a result wink

allchatnicknamesgone Wed 21-Jan-15 17:26:08

It is a very difficult debate and it is a very personal choice depending on personal and financial circumstances.
I'd never had it and was sceptical how needles can actually help. I appreciate it's very hard to form an opinion because as soon as you write acupuncture on these boards all the positive miracle stories pop up.

So I won't give you my personal story, but I will mention the benefits I have gained from it thus far. Firstly, I found a good one in my opinion and I spoke to her on the phone first and she acts as a bit of a release. Whether or not she is aiding me actually having a baby, she is definitely a fount of knowledge because of her number of clients who suffer from infertility. She is quite pragmatic and it's nice to voice things with someone other than a doctor or consultant or DH! I suppose it's a bit of therapy thrown it.

Also, since going I had a few other niggles and she has popped some extra needles in and the niggles have indeed lessoned.

Who knows really but at the moment it makes me feel better and more hopeful.

Hopefulmama34 Wed 21-Jan-15 20:57:01

I had it for about seven months both prior to and during my IVF cycle in October and, despite having similar reservations about it in the beginning, definitely think it made a big difference for me. I had a small fibroid in my womb picked up on a scan in December 2013 which the consultant thought might be affecting implantation. He referred me for a lap/dye/hyst last April (with the intention of removing the fibroid) and when I had the procedure they discovered it had gone. The only thing I did differently in the few months between diagnosis and the lap was to start having weekly acupuncture sessions with an acupuncturist who specialised in infertility.

I also found my periods were a lot more manageable and I managed my stress levels a lot better. My IVF cycle (fresh, first go on the NHS) was a success after trying naturally for three years - am now nearly 14 weeks pregnant - it might have been anyway but I feel instinctively that the acupuncture really helped me and will be doing it again if/when we try for a sibling. The cost can seem prohibitive, but it is still the hell of a lot cheaper than fertility treatments such as IVF and I have heard of lots of people (including people known to me personally) who found they conceived naturally after starting acupuncture. Sadly that didn't happen to me, but I still feel that it really helped prepare my body/regulate my hormones for IVF.

CatnipMouse Wed 21-Jan-15 21:42:37

Hello Merricat! I had very similar feelings to you - is it just woo, maybe there's something to it if so many people swear by it, I really ought to do everything possible to improve my chances ...

When I was wondering about this I thought I'd look to see whether there was a Cochrane review on it. (forgive me if you know this or have seen it before...) The Cochrane collaboration answer medical and health - type questions like this by finding all the published research, looking at the quality of the studies, and then combining the different studies to give the best possible answer to the question based on the existing evidence. I found their review on acupuncture and assisted conception here (you can read the full thing if you want or the plain English summary is more accessible)

In summary, when you look at all the research overall, acupuncture makes no difference to assisted conception. Although there are some individual studies which have shown an effect, they are 'balanced out' if you like by other studies which show no effect.

That's how I made my decision not to have acupuncture (that, and the thought that maybe trying to juggle another set of appointments was just going to be another source of stress). But different people approach things in different ways - this was what fitted with the way I think about things.

BatteryPoweredHen, may I just say I like your style and good luck with your pregnancy!!

Readyforthefuture Wed 21-Jan-15 22:51:14

Hi merricat, I totally understand where you are coming from on this. I too am a sceptic of these treatments, last year I decided to put that to one side and give anything a try. I tried the lot, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, reflexology, crystals, feng shui etc, some more relaxing/enjoyable than others. None of this has worked for me, but I did come to one conclusion... I decided I didn't really believe in it and if was just another way of me blaming myself for my infertility (I'm undiagnosed).

If you enjoy this kind of thing and believe maybe it can help, but don't let this be another stick to beat yourself with. You're doing what you think is right to make this happen, maybe these are all just lessons for future parenthood :-)

Good luck

merricat Thu 22-Jan-15 10:13:10

Thank you all for your replies flowers

Catnipmouse, thanks very much for the link to the Cochrane review (and no, I hadn't heard of it, but that was just the sort of thing I was looking for!). I'm really glad to see that I'm not the only one who has struggled with this dilemma, and decided in the end to opt out of complementary treatments. Readyforthefuture, I think you hit the nail on the head there with it being 'just another way of me blaming myself for my infertility'. I feel the same, and I have let this become a bit of a stick to beat myself with. I think, if we're to remain at all sane during our fertility struggles, we need to keep hold of who we are, and remain true to ourselves, however cringey that sounds. You've all made me feel much more reassured about my decision, so thank you.

I appreciate the input from those of you who do feel acupuncture has helped you as well - and thanks for understanding where I'm coming from. This debate has been going on in my head for about a year now, and it feels good to be able to put the doubts to rest a bit.

GalindawithaGa Sat 24-Jan-15 09:02:19

I replied on the other acupuncture thread earlier this week to say it didn't do anything for me and I didn't go back after one session. I didn't enjoy it, it was expensive, I didn't really believe it would have any benefit and I thought the therapist was unprofessional.

I'm not against 'woo' type things. As a catholic, I'm pretty open to things that have no scientific background whatsoever but can help people, grin so the science of it wasn't a deal breaker for me. It just didn't feel right. I would be much more likely to buy into something that was a 'relaxing' therapy like reflexology, although I haven't actually tried it yet.

Also, as I mentioned in my other post, we have severe male factor infertility, which is likely to be the cause of our infertility. We only got this diagnosis after 3.5 years and it was a devastating one (ie you will never, ever, conceive naturally with those sperm) so I'm glad I didn't persevere with the acupuncture at £40 per week only to find out there was an identifiable medical cause.

Whatever you do, don't beat yourself up about not doing acupuncture! People report that it worked for them, that's fine, but people report all sorts of things on an anecdotal basis. Trust your instincts and the cochrane report, I'd say! thanks

HermioneWeasley Sat 24-Jan-15 09:05:30

There is a very good fertility acupuncturist near me who works wi the reproductive medicine unit and gets good results, but your experiences sound bonkers and would have put me off too.

Her name is Caitlin Allen - might be worth googling as I think she does do blogs and stuff that might be helpful.

Parker172 Mon 26-Jan-15 09:39:29

I'm just about to start IVF next month, and have been having acupuncture for the last couple of months.

I'm not convinced about the link between infertility and acupuncture: but I am convinced about its ability to reduce stress - which its done for me.

I don't really care whether it's the needles, or because I have to lie down & stop for an hour a week....whatever the reason, I'm feeling a whole lot better about myself & my stress levels have decreased significantly.

To each his own, I guess?

BatteryPoweredHen Mon 26-Jan-15 22:18:27

I think it a very good thing that acupuncture relaxes some women, really I do.

I would just be a lot happier if all practitioners were legally obliged to point out to their clients that acupuncture has no proven effect on the outcome of fertility treatment prior to any money changing hands.

If there is indeed some 'as yet unproven' benefit, then such a stipulation would certainly motivate the industry to find it.

Win/win, surely?

merricat Wed 28-Jan-15 13:19:17

I totally agree, BatteryPoweredHen. It would dispense with a lot of the gnawing self-doubt many of us seem to go through when deciding whether or not to have these treatments. And, like you say, would stimulate more proper research in the field.

lildottie Wed 28-Jan-15 14:26:01

I haven't read the other replies but wanted to share my experience.

Whilst there is no conclusive evidence that acupunture helps, there are a few studies suggesting it MIGHT. I stress might as they are small studies and more research is required.

I started acupunture with a chinese lady recommended to my by my clinic. She is also a midwife. She wanted to see me twice a week because I had left it quite late to start before my IVF cylce. This was mid November and my IVF injections weren't starting until 28th december. Like you I wanted to do anything to help my chances, and whilst i didn't do twice a week, i was going weekly. But i found i was so stressed before she started because she was leaving me waiting on the table for her to start for 15-30 mins. This was under the pretence of going to wash her hands and i could hear her putting away her washing up and making phone calls to other clients. I'd paid up front for 6 sessions so felt i had to keep going.

After the 6 sessions were ended i went to another, english, lady the clinic had recommended who is also a midwife. I've seen her twice since early January and will see her this week pre and post transfer. no voodoo and much more relaxed.

I'd say if its causing you more stress its not worth doing, but if you can find someone you like its worth it for the relaxation if nothing else

purplemeggie Fri 30-Jan-15 20:23:44

I went for acupuncture (which I like and have had for various reasons at different times of my life - and I did my dissertation on its effectiveness as pain relief) when I had been ttc for about 2 years. It didn't help me to conceive, but what it did do - and I was not expecting this - was to help me emotionally. I had not recognised that I was suffering from depression and the only way I have found to explain the effect was that it was as if I'd been driving in a tunnel and I suddenly came out into the light.

I had acupuncture at the "right times" for my two fresh and one frozen cycle IVF last year, and did not get pregnant. But I was 41 and my eggs were declining in number and quality, so possibly a lost cause. I would have acupuncture again - not necessarily for my next IVF cycle (we're trying donor eggs shortly), but definitely for depression.

Hello Hen - delighted to hear you were successful. Hope the pregnancy is going well x

Darcourse Fri 30-Jan-15 22:17:01

I was always a skeptic too, but gave it a go on my fourth iui attempt - which was successful and my first pregnancy. I sadly miscarried, and after a couple more unsuccessful iuis we moved onto IVF. I continued with acupuncture, and I remember reading somewhere (can't remember where now unfortunately) that while it isn't proven, statistics show a 10% higher incidence of pregnancy in women who undergo acupuncture than those who don't. So there's clearly no guarantee, but if statistically you have a 25% chance of success by doing acupuncture you increase this to 35%.

We were fortunate to have a successful first cycle of IVF with acupuncture. Now whether that would have happened anyway, or whether it was a placebo effect or the other things I was doing to help my piece of mind (relaxation exercises, regular walking) I don't know, but overall I think it was worth the, probably getting on for £1000 I spent on acupuncture over the year or so prior to my BFP.

gcerron Sat 31-Jan-15 13:56:52

Great news Dar I am on acupuncture at the moment and I enjoy it. However I don't think this will work buy it's own. I consider acupuncture is a support to Ivf and if you don't get pregnant it's not that acupuncture is not working, something needs to be analysed and that issomething that the Ivf staff has to do.

DropYourSword Sat 31-Jan-15 14:03:23

I loved having acupuncture. It didn't 'work' in that it didn't cure me or anything, but I enjoyed the sensation of it and found it very relaxing. If you don't actually enjoy it then there really isn't going to be a benefit. It's horrible being in that position where you feel like you have to do everything and anything you can but just remember whn you hear things such as it worked for me', 'I started acupuncture after five years TTC and got pregnant the next month' there could easily be many more people that have been TTC for 5 years who didnt try acupuncture and still got pregnant the next month. It happens, but people just don't then post about it.
It's just confirmation bias!

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