Many women get pregnant easily, but it is unlikely that they are
reading this article. For other couples, having a baby may be more
difficult and therefore frustrating. If you are having difficulty,
undoubtedly you want to optimize the likelihood of a pregnancy by
practicing informed, healthy, fertile choices.
In order to increase your chances of getting pregnant, you need to
create an inviting environment for an embryo to implant and
develop. In this article, I will go over: what to look for in a healthy menstrual cycle; diet suggestions; lifestyle tips to enhance fertility; and how acupuncture can
have a powerful effect on the reproductive system, alone or in
conjunction with Western medicine. In the second part of this series, I
will explain how to effectively combine Western and Eastern medicine.
These ideas, and the ones in Part 11, have suggestions that can be
A Healthy Menstrual Cycle
Awareness of your body always gives you power. Whether you are
using Western medicine and manipulating your cycle with drugs or not
using artificial means, it is essential to know what a healthy
menstrual cycle looks like. An ideal cycle is regular; it lasts 28 days
(25-35 days is a good range); it contains little PMS; most blood is
bright red; and has no blood clots. But, there are also others things
to look for.
The time period before ovulation is your follicular phase. This is the
phase in which follicles grow and one follicle becomes dominant. At
ovulation time, the dominant follicle releases an egg. The follicular
phase is considered the yin part of the cycle in Traditional Chinese
All women have cervical discharge throughout the month. The discharge
is healthiest when it is clear to white, not any other color. The
discharge that indicates fertility is called S-type and is that which
begins approximately 6 days before ovulation with the rise of estrogen.
This discharge will be clear, stretchy and have the consistency of raw
egg white. A substantive discharge means increased fertility because it
facilitates pathways for sperm to enter the uterus. This discharge is
considered yin in nature. If you are lacking this type of cervical
discharge, you might be yin deficient. (Later, in the Diet and
Lifestyle Tips, note the tips that enhance yin). Drugs that dry up or
interfere with cervical fluid are antihistamines, atropine, N-SAIDS,
Ovulation is the release of the egg. The egg lives for 6-12 hours after
it is released. The sperm lives for up to 5 days. The prime time to
start engaging in intercourse would be 4-5 days prior to ovulation, 48
hours being the optimal time.
The phase after ovulation is the luteal phase. This phase is more yang
in nature. (Check yang dietary suggestions and lifestyle tips).
Once you begin to bleed, Traditional Chinese Medicine says that you are
most deficient and are more vulnerable. To avoid depletion while you
are bleeding, keep your feet warm, don't walk around the house
barefoot, and don't swim in cold water. While you are bleeding and
right after, it is important to nourish your blood (check Diet and
Lifestyle Tips for foods that nourish your blood)
Knowing your cycle allows you to encourage each phase to perform optimally.
In general for men and women, eat organic foods when possible and avoid
meats that have been treated with hormones or fish that contains
mercury. Women need to eat food with essential fatty acids, e.g., soy
products and wild caught salmon. Essential fatty acids are also found
in non-hydrogenated cold pressed oils like flaxseed, winter vegetables,
such as broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, and all dark green
vegetables. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. A Yale University School
of Medicine study found that the risk of infertility was 55%
higher for women drinking 1 cup of coffee per day, 100% higher for
women drinking 1 and 1 - 3 cups, and 176% higher for those drinking
more than 3 cups of coffee per day.
Chinese medicine takes an energetic view of our bodies and our organs,
meaning that bodily energy needs to move freely and stagnation causes
problems. The energy of the kidney system is very important for
For men and women, foods that nourish their kidney essence include:
chicken or duck and eggs from both; seeds and nuts; oysters; seaweed
For women, certain foods help nourish your bodies during the different phases of your cycle.
Foods that nourish Yin include: fruits such as raspberries, pineapples
and grapes; vegetables such as asparagus and beans; adequate proteins,
especially tofu and fish; and organ meats such as kidneys, brains and
hearts. Avoid spicy, pungent foods.
Foods that nourish Yang include warming foods: ginger; ginger tea;
beans; grains; and vegetables such as mustard greens, winter squash,
cabbage and kale. Avoid ice cold drinks, ice cream and foods that are
very cold. In general, it is a good idea to avoid ice water and ice
cream during pregnancy attempts.
Foods that nourish blood include: fruits such as blackberries,
raspberries and grapes; organic meats and poultry; soup stock made from
the bones of the meat and poultry; and vegetables such as turnips,
spinach and dark, leafy greens.
For both men and women, try to get good amounts of sleep and limit
stress. Of course, difficulties with fertility send stress skyrocketing
but that makes it even more important to find ways to relieve stress.
Meditation, yoga, relaxing with friends and any other calming
activities that work for you are encouraged.
For men, skip saunas, hot tubs and tight clothes, all of which heat up sperm.
For women, enjoy the foods noted above, exercise as a stress reliever
and to maintain health but don't overdo it. Excessive exercise depletes
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have a long history of benefiting fertility in many ways.
Benefits of acupuncture include:
- improved uterine lining
- increased blood flow to the uterus
- regulation of hormones
- reduction of stress associated with fertility problems
Recently a study demonstrated that sperm quality and motility was
improved after the men received acupuncture treatments. The men
treated experienced increased sperm motility levels, increased the
number and percentage of healthy sperm, and significant improvements in
sperm structure and quality as compared to a control group.
An important German study that received notable attention in the
American press showed that acupuncture significantly increased the
effectiveness of IVF success. Impressively, pregnancies were documented
in 34 out of 80 patients (42.5%) in the acupuncture group as compared
to 21 out of 80 patients (26.3%) in the control group. Part II of
this article will explain how to use Western infertility treatments and
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) together.
It is advisable to begin acupuncture 3 months before attempting to get
pregnant, but most women wait until they are actively trying to
conceive. In my practice, I see women 2 times weekly until we get a
positive pregnancy test result and 1 time weekly for the first
trimester to reduce the risk of miscarriage.
The main goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is to keep the body
in balance or to restore balance. This is one reason why TCM is so
effective with fertility which depends on a balanced body.
Dulgosz, L. and Brachs, M. Epidemiologic Reviews, Vol. 14 pg. 83, 1992.
Pei, J., Strehler, E., Noss, U. et al. Fertility and Sterility, July, Vol. 84 (1), pgs. 141-7, 2005.
Paulus, W., Zhang, et al. Fertility and Sterility April, Vol. 77 (4), 2002.
About the Author
Jennifer Dubowsky, L.Ac.,
M.S.O.M. is a licensed acupuncturist who works in Chicago, Illinois.
Jennifer earned her Masters of Science Degree in Oriental Medicine from
Southwest Acupuncture College, an accredited four year graduate program
in Boulder, Colorado. She received her diplomat from the NCCAOM, the
National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
and completed an internship at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital in
Beijing, China. Jennifer has also completed a Bachelor of Science
degree in Kinesiology.
If you have any comments or questions, she can be reached at 312-399-5098 or tcm007(at)aol.com