Natural Fertility Methods – Complete Guide to Fertility Awareness
Acupuncture for Infertility
Boosting Your Chances with Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been a primary method of medical care in China for over 3,000 years; however, it’s only recently caught on in mainstream western practice. Acupuncture has been used by millions of Americans and performed by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners for relief or prevention of pain and for a variety of health conditions. However, it is still somewhat controversial and the U.S. medical community is in disagreement regarding its efficacy.
Acupuncture is often used by itself as a treatment for infertility, as well as a complementary therapy to modern fertility treatment and has shown promise in treating elevated FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), repeated pregnancy loss, unexplained (idiopathic) infertility, luteal phase defect, hyperprolactinemia, PCOS, and male factor infertility. Most practitioners and experts agree that good candidates for acupuncture therapy are those who have a functional, rather than a structural, reason for infertility (damaged fallopian tubes is an example of a structural reason).
Although modern science has failed to explain how acupuncture works, Chinese practitioners believe that energy (qi, pronounced “chee”) flows through the body along 20 major channels called meridians. When the flow of energy is obstructed, energy builds up in some areas of the body, while depriving other areas. These meridians are accessible through 400 different points and, based on the problem you’re experiencing, different combinations of points are stimulated using thin, solid needles of varying lengths. The needles are inserted into the skin at certain areas on the body for 20 to 60 minutes during which time pulsating electrical current may be applied to the needles to enhance the treatment (called electro-acupuncture).
Acupuncture is a relatively painless procedure with minimal side effects when performed by a certified professional. Many people report feeling heaviness or tingling at the acupuncture site during the procedure and you may feel slightly sleepy, relaxed, or even energized afterwards. The most common risks associated with acupuncture include puncturing organs, transmitting infectious diseases, broken or forgotten needles and minor bleeding. You should not undergo acupuncture if you have a bleeding disorder or are using blood thinners.
Most practitioners recommend seeing a patient for one hour, once or twice a week for a series of weeks or months. Acupuncture ranges from about $30 to $200 per treatment and some insurance plans cover acupuncture.
Modern medical experts believe that the needles stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain, promoting the body to heal itself and reduce pain. Another hypothesis is that changes to the central nervous system during acupuncture alter the regulation of blood pressure and flow, as well as body temperature. Traditional practitioners believe that acupuncture is useful in treating infertility because it helps regulate your body’s system, increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, and stabilizes pituitary and ovarian hormone levels, all of which increases ovarian function in women and sperm production and motility in men. The improved circulation to the ovaries means healthier eggs, and the increased blood flow to the uterus increases the health and thickness of the uterine lining, which can help it retain and nourish a fetus to full-term. It is also thought that acupuncture helps women to relax during modern fertility treatments.
Several studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of acupuncture. One such study, conducted in Germany by Dr. Wolfgang Paulus and published in ASRM’s (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) “Fertility and Sterility” in April 2002, followed 80 women who underwent IVF and received acupuncture. Thirty-four of those women got pregnant (42.5 percent), while only 21 of those who received IVF and no acupuncture became pregnant (26.3 percent). In a similar study in the United States by Paul C. Magarelli, an infertility doctor at the Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Dr. Diane Cridennda, a licensed acupuncturist, followed 114 women who underwent IVF and acupuncture. Fifty-one percent of the women who received acupuncture became pregnant, compared with just 36 percent of those who received only IVF. This study also showed that 20 percent of the IVF-only women miscarried, as compare to only 8 percent from the acupuncture group. The women who received acupuncture also had lower rates of ectopic pregnancies.
A study by Dr. Stener-Victorin et al. at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fertility Centre, Goteborg University, Sweden, showed that receiving acupuncture treatments before and after IVF embryo transfer may increase the chance that the embryo will be implanted successfully and reduce the chance of miscarriage. The effectiveness of IVF drugs and procedures may also improve if acupuncture is done about once a week in the month or two leading up to the start of IVF and then continued regularly during the cycle.
Acupuncture has also been successful in treating male infertility (due to low sperm counts, morphology problems (misshapen sperm) or sperm motility problems). Dr. Jian Pei, from Christian-Lauritzen-Institut in Ulm, Germany, and colleagues assessed the benefits of acupuncture therapy in 28 men with unexplained sperm abnormalities. They found acupuncture led to a significant increase in the percentage and number of sperm without structural defects.
If you are interested in trying acupuncture as part of your fertility treatment, see a traditional fertility specialist first to determine your underlying fertility issues. In addition, tell your fertility specialist that you are receiving acupuncture as part of your fertility treatment. And if you suspect you have conceived, stop acupuncture immediately. Some of the same points used to stimulate the uterus and increase fertility may also cause a miscarriage – your acupuncturist should not place needles in the abdominal area after insemination or transfer, or during pregnancy.
Different states require different levels of practitioner certification, so find out what level of training your state considers sufficient. The National Institutes of Health Website offers tips on finding a licensed acupuncturist. Many modern medical practices can refer you to a reputable acupuncturist in your area, or you can find one using The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture database of licensed acupuncturists around the country or on the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Website.
Cycle Beads & the Standard Days Method
When most people think of contraception, their first thought is usually of either a barrier method (condoms) or a hormonal method (the Pill). Rarely do they think of a method that falls under the umbrella of natural family planning. In recent years, however, natural methods of birth control have gained popularity, partially due to their general ease of use and lack of side effects.
One of the newest forms of natural contraception, the Standard Days Method, developed by the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) at Georgetown University in 2002, is a reliable method designed to help you determine your most fertile time of each month. According to an international study of almost 500 women in three countries, the Standard Days Method is more than 95 percent effective when used correctly. To lower your chances of making a mistake, the IRH developed Cycle Beads, a string of 32 color-coded beads, each representing one day of your menstrual cycle.
How it works
The Standard Days Method is based on reproductive physiology data from the World Health Organization that shows women who have menstrual cycles between 26 and 32 days long are able to get pregnant on days eight through 19 of their cycles. In other words, there is a period of 12 days during each month that you are fertile and, if you have unprotected sex, are very likely to conceive.
While the Standard Days Method may sound similar to other methods of natural family planning, it is different in that it doesn’t require you to collect detailed information about your menstrual cycles for months in advance. All you need to do is keep track of how long your menstrual cycle is so you can determine when your 12-day fertility period begins.
It all comes down to proper timing. The probability that you will get pregnant from unprotected intercourse increases from 4 percent five days before you ovulate to almost 30 percent just before ovulation, and decreases again to 8 percent on the day of ovulation. The probability of pregnancy is then virtually zero for the rest of your cycle.
Keeping track of your cycle is actually fairly easy using the Standard Days Method. The most important thing you need to know is that the first day of your period is also the first day of your cycle. It is highly unlikely that you will get pregnant between day one and day seven, so if you’ve been trying to conceive for some time, you and your partner shouldn’t feel guilty about giving yourselves a break that week. According to developers of the Standard Days Method, the best time for you and your partner to try again is between the eighth and nineteenth days of your cycle, in the midst of your 12-day “fertile window.” Once you’ve reached the home stretch, from day 20 to day 32, it is – once again – highly unlikely that you will get pregnant.
To make it even easier for you to follow your menstrual cycle with the Standard Days Method, there are Cycle Beads which function as an ovulation calendar. Instead of relying on a basic 12-month calendar to tell you when your window of baby-making opportunity will open, Cycle Beads – a string of 32 beads that looks just like a necklace – can help you keep track. Cycle Beads include one red bead, which represents the first day of your period as well as the first day of your cycle; 19 brown beads, which signify the days when you are very unlikely to get pregnant; and 12 white beads to remind you of each of your fertile days. As an extra reminder, the white beads even glow in the dark! On the first day of your period, you simply place the rubber ring on the red bead to represent the first day of your cycle. The following day, you move the ring to the next bead (an arrow shows you in which direction). Continue to move the ring forward by one bead every day until your cycle is complete, and repeat until you and your partner have reached pregnancy success!
Some women choose natural family planning methods over other forms of contraception because they are inexpensive and they do not have side effects. Others choose them because they may be the only morally acceptable form of contraception in their religion. Whatever the reason, it is true that there are benefits to using a method of natural family planning like the Standard Days Method.
Thanks to the development of Cycle Beads as a way of ensuring you use the Standard Days Method correctly, natural family planning couldn’t be easier. In addition to ease of use, research has shown that the Standard Days Method is more than 95 percent effective in fertility awareness. And most women would agree that an effective method without side effects sounds almost too good to be true. Reliable, inexpensive, non-invasive and non-hormonal, it’s no surprise natural family planning methods are gaining popularity.
Unfortunately, the Standard Days Method cannot be used by all women and is only a good option if your menstrual cycle lasts from 26 to 32 days and if you have regular periods. According to the World Health Organization, about 80 percent of women’s cycles are between 26 and 32 days long. If you fall under the other 20 percent of women whose cycles end sooner or last longer, the Standard Days Method probably isn’t for you.
Most natural family planning methods also require periodic abstinence, which may alter your normal sex life and could pose a problem in this aspect of your relationship. Periodic abstinence also limits spontaneous sex, which may be also be challenging. In addition, natural family planning methods do not protect against STDs, so if you are trying to avoid pregnancy and are not in a monogamous relationship, condoms are a better option for you.
The Standard Days Method and other forms of natural family planning can be used as ways to achieve pregnancy, but they are more often used to avoid it. In a clinical trial of 478 women in Bolivia, Peru and the Philippines, the IRH found that among those who used the Standard Days Method correctly as a form of birth control, it was more than 95 percent effective. In other words, out of 100 women using the method for one year, fewer than five of them would get pregnant. In comparison, researchers also found that out of those women who did not keep careful track of their menstrual cycles and had unprotected intercourse during their 12-day window of fertility, 12 out of 100 of them got pregnant during their first year of use.
No research has been conducted to see how effective the Standard Days Method is in helping a couple who is trying to conceive, but Cycle Beads can help you pinpoint your fertile days and cycle length, which is an important first step toward becoming pregnant.
Cycle Beads cost anywhere from $10 to $15 and can be purchased over the Internet. While they are known to be an efficient tool for helping women keep track of their fertile and infertile days, it is possible to use the Standard Days Method successfully without using Cycle Beads simply by keeping track of your cycle on a calendar.
Fertility Awareness Method
The fertility awareness method (FAM) is a form of natural family planning that uses a combination of several separate methods – usually calendar charting, basal body temperature (BBT), cervical mucus, and cervical observation – to predict when a woman will ovulate. This method, also called the Sympto-Thermal Method, can also be used as a method of natural contraception.
The fertility awareness method helps women identify and predict ovulation so they can time their reproductive efforts to coincide with their most fertile days, thereby increasing the likelihood of conceiving. In general, a woman is able to get pregnant for about 5 to 7 days each month (you may like My Pregnant Body – Week by Week). Sperm can live inside a woman’s body for 3 to 5 days after intercourse; but after ovulation, an egg is viable for just 24 to 48 hours. You are more likely to conceive if intercourse occurs from 3 days before ovulation until 2 to 3 days after ovulation.
One advantage of FAM is that it is completely natural, with no associated health risks or side effects. Other advantages include its effectiveness if used correctly and consistently (especially for women who have regular menstrual cycles); it can increase a woman’s awareness and understanding of her body; and couples using FAM may develop greater communication, cooperation, and responsibility. In addition, the methods can be used to confirm each other; for example, a change in cervical mucus can be confirmed with a change in basal body temperature.
One disadvantage of the FAM is the amount of time and effort required to learn how to use the method correctly – it requires considerable commitment and calculation – and some women say that despite careful tracking and adherence to the method, they simply cannot detect a predictive menstrual pattern.
The fertility awareness method is most effective for women with regular menstrual cycles. Women who have recently given birth, had an abortion or miscarriage, or are breastfeeding or approaching menopause may find it more difficult to chart their fertility because their fertile signs may vary in unpredictable ways due to irregular hormonal fluctuations. This method is also not recommended for couples who have serious reproductive problems or for women with irregular cycles. The following are the most common methods used as part of the fertility awareness method:
Calendar charting, also called the rhythm method, involves using past menstrual cycles as a guide to calculate the average number of days in your cycle and estimate your future fertile days.
If we use the first day of menstrual flow as the beginning of the calendar, an egg is maturing and is almost ready to be released from the follicle by day seven of the average cycle. Somewhere between days 11 and 21, hormones in your body cause the egg to be released from the ovary (ovulation) and travel down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If sperm does not fertilize the egg, it breaks apart. By the 28th day of your cycle your hormone levels drop, which signals the lining of the uterus to be shed as the beginning of your menstrual flow.
The first half of the menstrual cycle, before ovulation, is very different in every woman and can even change from month to month in the same woman. But the last half of the cycle is usually more similar for every woman because there are approximately 14 days from the day of ovulation until the start of the next period. (The average menstrual cycle is between 28 to 32 days.) This is why women are encouraged to count back 14 days from their last period to pinpoint their most fertile time of the month.
To track your fertile days using the calendar method, begin by keeping a written record of your menstrual cycle for 8 to 12 consecutive months, using the first day of menstruation (actual bleeding, not spotting) as Day 1 of your cycle. Once you have recorded your cycle for several months, identify your longest and shortest cycles and subtract 18 from the length of your shortest cycle – this is the first fertile day. Then subtract 11 from the length of your longest cycle – this is your last fertile day. For example, assume your shortest cycle was 26 days and your longest cycle was 31 days. Subtract 18 from 26 to get the first fertile day, Day 8. Subtract 11 from 31 to get Day 20, your last fertile day. Ovulation will occur sometime during this fertility window, between days 8 and 20. To maximize your chances of conceiving, you should have sexual intercourse every day or every other day from your first fertile day to your last fertile day.
As you start each new cycle, add the number of days between your periods to the chart and re-calculate your predictions of fertile times. As your chart grows, cross off the oldest cycles and only consider the past 12 months.
Basal Body Temperature
Monitoring your basal body temperature can help you identify the change in temperature that occurs just before and after ovulation. After charting a few cycles, you will be able to distinguish a pattern in your temperature and anticipate ovulation.
Take your basal temperature orally every morning before you do anything, even get out of bed (even the slightest activity can elevate your temperature), and record it on your fertility tracking calendar. You can also chart it using graph paper to see the pattern more clearly. Use a basal thermometer instead of a conventional fever thermometer; your body temperature will only rise between 0.4 and 1 degree F when you ovulate and a basal thermometer is more sensitive to small changes in your temperature. Your temperature will probably be fairly consistent in the first half of your menstrual cycle; however, as you get closer to ovulation, you may notice a slight drop in temperature followed by a sharp increase, indicating that ovulation has just occurred. The temperature spike occurs within 12 hours of ovulation and it will remain elevated until your next menstrual period begins. Your fertile days are just before the temperature spike, and for the three days following. Keep in mind that illness, lack of sleep, and alcohol or drug use can affect your temperature and make it difficult to establish an accurate reading. To increase your chance of conceiving, you should have sexual intercourse every day or every other day from the ninth day after the start of your menstrual period until three days after your BBT rises.
Cervical Mucus Observation
The cervical mucus method is also called the Billings Method and monitors the amount, appearance, and consistency of cervical mucus in order to anticipate ovulation.
The consistency of your cervical mucus changes during your menstrual cycle. In an average cycle, there are three to four dry days after a five-day menstrual flow. After the dry days, the mucus wetness increases daily, lasting approximately nine days until it becomes abundant, slippery, clear, and very stretchy, similar to egg whites. Ovulation occurs within two days of when your mucus becomes clearest, slippery, and most stretchy.
To monitor your cervical mucus, collect it from the vaginal opening every day with your (clean) fingers by wiping them from front to back, or examine the mucus that collects on your underwear. Record the consistency (thick, sticky, or stretchy), color (clear, white, yellow, cloudy), feel (dry, wet, sticky, slippery, stretchy), and amount of mucus daily on your calendar.
To increase your chances of conceiving, you should have sexual intercourse every day or every other day from the day you notice your cervical mucus becoming clearer and stretchy until it becomes cloudy and sticky.
Do not douche or use spermicides, foams, or jellies as these may wash away or change the appearance and consistency of the mucus. Vaginal infection, the presence of seminal fluid, arousal fluid, lubricants, anovulatory cycles, and using antihistamines can all affect the amount, appearance, and consistency of the mucus.
The position of a woman’s cervix changes over the course of her menstrual cycle. During menstruation and for the first few days after, the cervix is fairly low and firm like the tip of your nose. As ovulation nears, the cervix begins to move up, becoming more soft, wet, and open; during ovulation, the cervix is at its highest and most open to allow sperm through; and after ovulation, the cervix returns to the firm, low, and closed position.
To observe changes in your cervical position, insert your (clean) middle finger into your vagina and feel your cervix for softness, height, opening, and wetness. A plastic speculum can be helpful in the beginning while you are getting used to finding and feeling your cervix. Check your cervix about the same time of day and in the same position (squatting, sitting on the toilet, or with one leg raised). Record the position and quality of your cervix on your calendar. To increase your chances of conceiving, you should have sexual intercourse every day or every other day from when you notice your cervix become higher and more open until it begins to close and become firm.
Classes on charting fertility patterns are offered by many family planning health centers, church-affiliated instructors, and at Catholic hospitals, often at little or no cost.
Many couples struggling with infertility have turned to a fertility coach to help them through diagnosis and treatment. Infertility and its treatment can be a frightening, stressful, confusing, and lonely time and a coach can help couples learn to support each other, gain coping skills, face the potentially insensitive questions of friends and family, and practice stress management techniques.
Fertility treatment can be a tangled web of hopes, fears, possibilities, and questions, and making a decision about the course of treatment too quickly or without all the necessary information or perspective can have long-lasting consequences. A fertility coach acts as consultant, liaison, advocate, and confidant to couples undergoing treatment and can help them decipher confusing medical terminology, explain procedures, and outline the options, difficult choices and decisions that lie ahead, giving clients the knowledge and confidence to choose the best treatment for them.
A fertility coach can also help clients sort through the often intense emotions associated with infertility and treatment and provide encouragement, options, and perspective when the clients become discouraged and lose the motivation or ability to continue. The coach can then help the clients decide what path is best for them, whether that means trying a different method of treatment, taking a break from treatment, considering adoption, or accepting life without a child.
A fertility coach can help you:
- Help you process the complex emotions associated with infertility and infertility treatment
- Help you understand paperwork, insurance coverage, billing, and develop a treatment schedule
- Help you communicate with your doctor more effectively and assertively
- Make sense of the treatment probabilities and uncertainties
- Identify what’s really important for you and your partner
- Evaluate benefits and shortcomings of different treatment options
- Create a safe space for you and your partner to discuss disagreements and fears
- Create a treatment plan, including alternative options
- Ensure that you come to the decisions that are best for you
- Allow you to take more control over your treatment
In general, women are more likely to seek the services of a therapist or other healthcare provider than men, and the same is true of a fertility coach. Women are usually more involved in the medications and procedures, are hormonally stressed and may grieve every time their period starts, ovulation doesn’t occur, or they suffer a miscarriage. However, men can benefit from infertility coaching, particularly group sessions, where they can meet other men who feel the same isolation, helplessness, and fear and discuss these feelings and learn coping methods.
Couples struggling with infertility often disagree on the methods and extent of treatment and the options they are willing to explore, all of which can strain even the strongest relationships. But through a fertility coach, couples can actually strengthen their relationship, becoming better, more caring partners, and increasing and improving their communication.
Although many fertility coaches come from a psychotherapy background, fertility coaching is not therapy. A therapist works with clients to explore the emotional issues that are at the root of a problem while a fertility coach helps clients to reach specific goals and look ahead, not behind. While working with a coach, however, some issues may arise which are better handled by a therapist, and in that event, the coach may be able to help the clients find a therapist who can help.
Fertility coaches generally offer their services over the phone in the form of teleclasses, or individual, couples, or group sessions. Some also offer personalized, unlimited, face-to-face services for an additional fee. Services may be set up as a one-time session, a specified number of hours each month, or charged on a per-hour basis. Rates can vary widely, from the cost of a long-distance phone call for teleclasses (usually $3 to $6), up to $125 to $200 per hour for individual coaching.
If you and your partner are having difficulty getting pregnant, you may have already begun to look into possible fertility treatments. And if you’ve seen how many options there are to choose from, you may feel a bit overwhelmed! While common fertility treatments like IUI and IVF are highly effective when it comes to increasing your chances of conception, they are also very expensive and can cause a number of physical and emotional side effects. For these reasons, more and more couples in the United States are putting their hopes into herbal remedies.
An herbal remedy is a type of alternative medicine that originates from plants and plant extracts. These natural remedies have been used for centuries and were the precursor to modern medicine. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 25 percent of all prescription drugs are still derived from trees, shrubs or herbs. Used to heal everything from diseases to psychological disorders, herbal medicine has also been said to work wonders in treating both male and female infertility.
Herbs and Fertility
Evidence of the use of herbal remedies to treat problems with fertility dates all the way back to 200 A.D. Despite their ongoing popularity in China and the Far East, the United States has been reluctant to endorse the use of herbs for infertility treatments because of a lack of scientific proof that they are effective. As more and more clinical data appears,
However, herbal fertility remedies are steadily becoming more popular in the U.S. Fertility-promoting herbs have long been believed to have a positive effect on both female and male reproductive organs, hormonal systems and sex drive. More specifically, fertility herbs can address hormonal imbalance, irregular menstruation, erectile dysfunction and sperm motility problems.
A recent study at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom found that herbal remedies and non-traditional supplements could greatly increase a couple’s chances of conceiving. Data shows that couples who were given vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies had an 80 percent conception rate compared to a 20 percent conception rate among those who did not receive the supplements.
There are more than 150 herbs used in the treatment of infertility. Some of them contain organic compounds that look very much like the natural hormones found in our bodies. Many of them are so similar in structure that, when taken, they can actually trigger your body to fill a void or correct a problem.
Fertility herbs have shown to work best in women who have hormonal imbalances or irregular periods, and men who have low sperm counts or infertility issues with unknown causes. Herbal fertility remedies can help establish normal hormonal functioning, nourish and tone your uterus, reduce your stress level, relax your nervous system and balance sexual desire.
Herbal remedies can be taken in several different forms, including capsules, tablets, teas and powdered infusions. Most good herbal brands come with a recommended dosage that usually involves taking the herb three times a day for several months to keep consistent concentrations of it in your bloodstream. It may be difficult at first to incorporate an herbal regimen into your daily routine, but once you get used to it, it isn’t much more complicated than using oral contraceptives. Which herbs are used to promote fertility? Herbal remedies can be made from roots, leaves, bark, fruits and flowers. Herbs that promote fertility act as hormone-like compounds that can trigger multiple receptor sites throughout the body.
The following are some of the most popular fertility-promoting herbs:
- Chaste Tree Berry – Chaste tree berry, also known as Vitex, may take several months to build up in your system, but once it does, it can have a profound effect on your ability to conceive. Used by the Greeks for centuries, chaste tree berry is the most clinically studied herb known to help regulate hormones in women.Research suggests that chaste tree berry affects the pituitary gland – more specifically, the production of progesterone. By stimulating and normalizing the pituitary gland’s progesterone function, chaste tree berry can help minimize symptoms of PMS, regulate your period and improve your chances of conception if you have a hormonal imbalance. It is safe to take during your entire cycle.
- Black Cohosh – More commonly used as a treatment for mood swings, hot flashes and vaginal dryness associated with menopause, black cohosh has a long history of use by Native Americans and it also believed to help regulate LH levels, keeping periods and ovulation more regular. It can also help relieve menstrual cramps and can be taken during the first half of your cycle, from menstruation until ovulation.
- Dong Quai – Another herb that is known to help regulate the menstrual cycle is dong quai, a traditionally valued Chinese herb that is noted, among other things, for providing important nutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin E. Dong quai is also known for it’s ability to balance estrogen levels and may be helpful in improving the chances of implantation for women who have auto-immune disorders. It is also a blood-thinning herb, so you should not take dong quai during your period.
- Wild Yam – Another herb that is known to increase production of progesterone in women with short luteal phases (from the day after ovulation begins to the end of the menstrual cycle) is wild yam. It is important to note that wild yam should only be taken after ovulation, as it can prevent ovulation if taken before.
- False Unicorn Root – Sometimes called a “tonic for the reproductive organs,” false unicorn root can be used to treat delayed and painful periods, endometriosis, hormonal imbalance, morning sickness, threatened miscarriage and ovarian cysts. It is said to have a stimulating and normalizing effect on the ovaries, aiding in both getting pregnant and staying pregnant. You should only take false unicorn root during the first half of your cycle from menstruation to ovulation. It is also said to be helpful in treating men with fertility issues.
- Red Clover Blossom – High in vitamins, calcium and magnesium, red clover blossom is one of the most popular herbal remedies for promoting fertility. It nourishes your uterus and relaxes your nervous system, which helps promote fertility. In addition, its high protein content can benefit your whole body. Taken daily, red clover blossom can also help balance hormones.
- Red Raspberry Leaf – Red raspberry leaf has been used for centuries and is also among the most popular fertility-promoting herbs. High in calcium, red raspberry leaf does not have a direct impact on ovulation, but is known instead for its ability to help strengthen your uterus and prepare it for pregnancy. Red raspberry leaf works best to promote fertility when combined with red clover blossom and can be taken during your entire cycle.
- Ginseng – Most commonly used by men, ginseng can promote fertility in both men and women. It stimulates the immune system and can raise testosterone levels, help treat impotence, and increase sexual desire, sperm count and sperm mobility.
- Licorice – Similar to dong quai, licorice is believed to help balance estrogen levels. However, a moderate amount of licorice has been linked to an increase in blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, hypertension or kidney disease, you should not use licorice as an herbal remedy.
- Nettle Leaves – Another herb that is beneficial to other parts of your body, specifically your kidneys, is known as stinging nettle. It contains high levels of chlorophyll, which can help regulate your hormones and your cycle, and is also a helpful uterine tonic, strengthening and toning your uterus.
Evening Primrose Oil – Not only does evening primrose oil help lower cholesterol and alleviate symptoms of PMS, it also aids in the production of fertile quality cervical mucus, which is a huge proponent in the process of conception. Drinking plenty of water in addition to taking evening primrose oil can help you produce thinner, more watery cervical mucus, which is easier for your partner’s sperm to swim through, increasing the chances of fertilization. Evening primrose oil causes uterine contractions, so you should not take it after ovulation in the event that conception has occurred.
Palmetto – One of the primary herbs used by men with fertility issues is palmetto. Its tissue-building and gland-stimulating properties can help tone and strengthen the male reproductive system and can help correct male impotence and low libido, and promote prostate health.Combination Supplements – An herbalist will sometimes recommend more than one herb that can be taken together in one form to help increase your chances of conception.
For you: A combination of chaste tree berry, ginseng, red clover blossoms, dong quai and more, Ovulex is an herbal fertility supplement that can treat a hormonal imbalance or nutritional deficiencies, and can help strengthen your uterus to create ideal conditions for conception to occur.
For your partner: An herbal fertility supplement specifically for men, Amberoz contains ginseng, ginger, tribulus, palmetto and vitamin E to increase sperm count, sperm motility and strengthen the reproductive system as a whole.
There is very little regulation of herbal remedies in the United States. The FDA does not regulate the manufacturing of herbs, but the U.S. Pharmacopeia, a publication that contains legally recognized standards of therapeutic drugs including herbal supplements, does enforce a few standards in the process. Companies that produce herbs meeting these standards have the “USP Dietary Supplement Verified” seal of approval on their label. Looking for herbs with this stamp can help reassure you that are buying a product with some quality. While they can help treat a variety of problems, herbs can also cause adverse affects when mixed with prescription or over-the-counter drugs, so it is important that you talk to your doctor before taking any type of natural remedy for your fertility issues.
If you are considering trying herbs for fertility, it is important to remember the following things:
- Never use herbal remedies and fertility drugs consecutively.
- Only take the herbs recommended by your doctor or an experienced herbalist.
- Use a brand of herbs that has been on the market for quite some time and has good credibility. Higher prices do not necessarily mean better quality.
- Always take the recommended dosage and pay attention to the way your body responds to the herbs.
- Don’t expect immediate results. Most herbs take anywhere from three to six months to produce maximum benefits.
- Because some herbs can cause your uterus to contract, discontinue your use of all herbal medicines once you become pregnant.
Even though they are considered “all-natural,” herbal medicines are quite potent and should be taken with as much precaution as traditional medicines. If you are interested in using fertility-promoting herbal remedies, discuss the possibility with your doctor. It may help improve your chances of conception considerably.
Many couples struggling with infertility are trying fertility retreats instead of, or in addition to, the traditional treatments of drugs, surgery, or ART. These holistic getaways are designed to help couples deal with the emotional and physical aspects of their fertility issues through relaxation techniques, Traditional Chinese Medicine, diet, yoga, massage, exercise, art therapy, and herbal supplements.
According to a study conducted at Harvard University and reported in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1993, the level of depression and anxiety experienced by individuals struggling with infertility is equal to that of patients diagnosed with cancer and HIV. Research has also shown a causal relationship between stress and infertility, leading some experts to believe that stress reduction techniques may increase the chance of conceiving naturally or with ART.
Fertility retreats are based on the belief that there is no separation between the mind and the body; one affects the other. Therefore, stress, depression, and anxiety affect the physical body as well as the mind, and when that anxiety is focused on reproductive health, it can impede fertility. Proponents of these retreats believe that by teaching participants relaxation techniques and applying other holistic methods, the fertility issues can be resolved.
Many clinics and organizations offer several different retreats, depending on the participants’ specific fertility issue. For example, there are general fertility programs for couples; an adhesion release program for women who suffer from endometriosis, abdominal adhesions and fallopian tube obstruction; and even a pregnancy support program for women who succeed in conceiving to ensure the best condition for sustaining the pregnancy.
A fertility retreat can help you:
- Understand the mind-body connection with infertility
- Gain body awareness and learn relaxation techniques
- Apply cognitive restructuring to reframe thoughts with realism and hope
- Learn fertile health and wellness recommendations
- Develop coping strategies to deal with difficult situations
- Gain a support system by meeting others struggling with infertility
- Reconnect as a loving couple
- Emerge better prepared to face whatever you decide is the next step in your family-building
By the end of the retreat, participants report feeling more relaxed, a greater sense of control over their fertility problems and their ability to deal with it, and a general improved sense of well-being. Leaders of the retreats believe they work because the curriculum and methods address the individual’s attitude and behavior toward their problem, not just the physical aspects.
The Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association reported in 1999 that within six months of being taught mind/body relaxation techniques, 42 percent of the women in the study were able to conceive. Additionally, these women were able to affectively decrease their levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Another study concluded that 55 percent of women who completed Harvard University’s mind/body workshop conceived within six months of finishing the program, compared with only 20 percent who did not take the program.
Western scientists and experts are unable to explain how relaxation helps infertility patients, so many are skeptical of such a holistic approach and consider these retreats to be a waste of money. For example, one critic pointed out that birthrates in some of the most stressful areas of the world, as in war-torn countries such as India, Afghanistan, and Bhutan, are among the highest in the world. However, other western scientists agree that, while there is no guarantee that relaxation can cure infertility, it certainly can’t hurt.
The success rates of independent retreats have not been confirmed by an objective source, so the claims of retreat providers are impossible to prove or discredit. However, one retreat in Austin, Texas, lead by Randine Lewis, Ph.D., claims a 25 percent success rate, and a 75 percent success rate when participants combine western fertility-assisted technologies like IVF with her fertility retreats.
The duration, location, and cost of fertility retreats vary greatly. Some retreats are based on the 90 days it takes to complete an ovarian cycle and require participants to stay at the retreat location for one week per month for three months. Other retreats consist of several, shorter sessions over the course of one year, some last five days, and some meet just a few hours each week for a number of weeks. Costs range from $200 for a five-day retreat without lodging, up to $3780 for a five-day retreat at a luxury spa, plus a home-based program.
If you are interested in attending a fertility retreat, check out these Websites:
- Reproductive Wellness
- The Fertile Soul
- The Penn Fertility Wellness Program
- The Mind/Body Medical Institute
Lunar Fertility Cycle
Thousands of years ago, before modern science came along to explain that women menstruate because of changing hormones, it was generally accepted that menstrual cycles and the phases of the moon were interwoven. After all, the moon controls ocean tides, why not women’s bodies? Even with the explanations we’ve been given in recent decades, some experts still support the idea of a relationship between the two. This celestial theory provides the possibility that women can be fertile twice in one cycle; first when she is ovulating, and again during her natal lunar fertile phase.
What is the natal lunar fertile phase?
The term natal lunar fertile phase, coined by Czech psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Jonas, refers to the angle between the sun and the moon on the day of a person’s birth. In the 1950s, Dr. Jonas was at a loss to explain why so many of his female patients were becoming pregnant at times when they were not supposed to be fertile. Dr. Jonas’ interest in astrology led him to read a statement by the ancient astrologers of Babylon and Assyria that gave him what he thought could be the answer: “Woman is fertile during a certain phase of the moon.”
After many years of researching the menstrual cycles of hundreds of women, Dr. Jonas believed he had gathered enough evidence to support the ancient theory, concluding that, in addition to the time of ovulation, a woman can be fertile every month during the same phase of the moon that occurred at the time of her birth. In other words, every month when the moon is in the same phase as it was when you were born, you can potentially ovulate and may become pregnant, even if you are on your period. Supporters say this additional fertile time is a result of the moon having aroused certain hormonal states in your body at the moment of your birth and continuing to influence your body over the course of your lifetime.Can it be true?
Every year, thousands of women faithfully follow and rely on methods of natural family planning in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Many of them have regular periods and feel as though they are so in tune with their own cycles that they can pinpoint their exact time of ovulation. Yet many become pregnant at times when they are certain they are not fertile. Doctors usually attribute these instances to mistakes made by women during the process of monitoring their signs of ovulation, which certainly do occur. Still, the menstrual-lunar connection has yet to be disproved, and the theory not only applies to women. A British study found that men’s sperm counts significantly increase during their lunar fertility periods.
Regardless, the natal lunar fertile phase is a theory that has always been riddled with skepticism. Some studies have concluded that the connection between menstrual cycles and lunar cycles is non-existent because the average menstrual cycle does not match the 29.5-day lunar cycle. Yet a high percentage of women have cycles which do, in fact, last 29 to 30 days, so the debate continues.When is my lunar fertility phase?
A lunar phase is basically a description of the angular relationship between the sun and the moon at a particular time. Your personal lunar phase is repeated every month when the moon is in the exact position in relation to the sun as it was at the time of your birth. For example, if you were born during the new moon, your natal lunar phase comes every month when the moon is new.
There are a few Web sites that will give you an idea of your lunar phase. Lunar calculators, such as the one on this site, for example, can show you the phase of the moon for any day over the last 200 years. Other Web sites provide personal lunar fertility guides where, for a fee, you are promised the most accurate information about your lunar phase and how it relates to your individual menstrual cycle.
While the relationship between the moon and our bodies is not well understood, lunar phases have been said to affect other aspects of our lives from our moods to our emotions. For example, emergency room doctors have said the busiest night of the month always occurs when the moon is full. Until modern science is able to prove that a particular moon phase can or cannot spontaneously trigger a woman’s ovulation, the proximity of the relationship between the menstrual cycle and the lunar cycle will remain a mystery.
Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from an ovary. The egg may be released by either ovary and will slowly make its way down a fallopian tube toward the uterus. It can survive only 12 to 24 hours after it is released before it begins to dissolve and is reabsorbed into the body or passed with the next menstrual period; that is, unless it is fertilized by one lucky and very fast sperm.
Ovulation usually occurs around the middle of your cycle; however, it can occur on a different day each month, so it’s important you learn how to track your cycle in order to predict your ovulation. The first day of your period is said to be Day 1 of your cycle and ovulation usually occurs between Day 11 and 21. The average cycle length is between 28 and 32 days; however, many women have cycles that are longer or shorter – another good reason to track your individual cycle.
The first part of your cycle is called the follicular phase and continues until you ovulate. The second half of the cycle is called the luteal phase and lasts from the day of ovulation until the first day of the next period. The follicular phase can last anywhere from 7 days to 40 days, but the luteal phase is a little more precise, lasting 12 to 16 days. So the day you ovulate is what determines the length of your cycle. Sometimes your body fails to release an egg, called an anovulatory cycle, even though you still get your period, so don’t rely on your period to tell you whether you are ovulating.
If you are trying to get pregnant, you can increase your chances of conception by knowing when you are most fertile and having intercourse frequently around that time. You are most fertile just before ovulation and should have intercourse one to two days before the egg is released, and up to about 24 hours after, because sperm can live for two to three days in your body. If fertilized, the egg will take approximately 6 to 12 days to reach the uterus where it will implant and begin to divide and grow.
There are several ways to predict when you will ovulate:
Basal Body Temperature: When an egg is released from an ovary, your body begins producing progesterone, which – if the egg is fertilized – will sustain the pregnancy until the placenta forms and takes over. This boost in progesterone causes your body temperature to rise ever so slightly – 0.4 to 1.0 degrees. You cannot feel such a miniscule rise, but a very sensitive thermometer, called a basal body temperature (BBT) thermometer, can detect it. You are most fertile approximately two or three days before your temperature spikes, so you need to learn to spot the signs that your temperature is about to spike (usually a slight dip in your temperature). This is best done by taking your BBT every morning for several months and charting your temperature to reveal patterns. To learn more about how to track your BBT, click here
Cervical Mucus: Cervical mucus is the viscous fluid secreted by the cervix. For most of the month, it is too thick and dry for sperm to swim through; however, as you near ovulation, the consistency of your cervical mucus changes to become clear, slippery and stretchy, kind of like raw egg whites. This fluid is easy for sperm to swim through on their way to your fallopian tubes and your awaiting egg. Begin testing your cervical mucus every day and charting it much like you do your BBT. To learn more about testing your cervical mucus, click here
Ovulation is an essential factor relevant to the conception. In this article, we will have a closer look at ovulation and how it works.
One of the most important factors to know when you want to conceive is to identify and determine when you ovulate. To increase your chances of successful conception, you need to understand the process of ovulation in the body.
What is ovulation?
This is a phenomenon that occurs in the female body; each month, your body produces a certain number of eggs. Ovulation occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle.
Each ovarian cyst will produce one egg per month after ovulation will go into the fallopian tube to the uterus. Here, if the sperm meets the egg, it will lead to conception. Otherwise, the egg will be eliminated outside the womb and cause monthly menstruation.
Ovulation takes place when a mature egg is released from the ovary and pushed into the fallopian tube, which will follow the fallopian machine to the uterus to meet the sperm. The process of conception, if most occur in 1/3 outside the fallopian tube.
The process of conception is calculated from when the fertilized egg until the embryo implants in the uterus. After fertilization 3-4 days, the eggs begin to move out of the fallopian tubes into the uterus, looking for a nest.
Each month, most will have ovulation; at this time, the lining of the uterus has thickened to prepare for the fertilized egg. If no conception occurs, the lining of the uterus will peel off.
When does the ovulation occur?
Contrary to popular belief, many people do not ovulate on the 14th day of the cycle. Ovulation time varies from person to person and varies from month to month. If your menstrual cycle lasts 28 to 32 days, ovulation can occur between 11 to 21 days.
This is what many call a “fertile time” of women because having sex during this time increases the chances of getting pregnant. You should note some external factors such as stress, illness, medication, or interrupting regular habits can affect the time of your ovulation.
The time of ovulation is one of the most important things a woman should know about her body because it is a crucial factor in pregnancy and preventing pregnancy.
How to identify the day of ovulation?
The symptoms of ovulation vary from woman to woman. Maybe some women will not notice the signs of ovulation. Besides, ovulation time is always different for each person. Below are some most common symptoms happening in most women:
- Change in cervical fluid
- Change in body temperature
- Change the cervical position or cervical softness
- Usually mild pain, pain in the lower abdomen, usually on one side or the other
- The breasts are fuller and tighter. Nipples and breasts are more sensitive.
- The feeling of sexual desire increases.
- The sense of smell is sensitive to increased taste or eyesight
Above are all the things you need to know about ovulation, the most critical cycle in women. Hopefully, you have had the answer to your problem.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Infertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dates back approximately 5,000 years and has been used to treat infertility and miscarriage as early as 200 A.D. Using a combination of acupuncture, herbs, massage, diet, and exercise, TCM treats the root causes of a condition, balances disharmonies, and alleviates a patient’s symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently acknowledged the ability of TCM to facilitate healing in many diseases, and nearly one quarter of the world’s population still turns to TCM for their primary health care.
TCM stems from ancient Taoist philosophy which views a person as an energy system in which mind and body are deeply connected, each influencing and balancing the other. An individual’s emotional experiences, eating habits, work habits, work and living environment, personal habits, and social environment are all factors that contribute to overall health or illness. The belief is based on the concept of yin and yang – opposing energies, such as earth and heaven, winter and summer, and happiness and sadness. When yin and yang are in balance, you feel relaxed and energized; but they can negatively affect your health when out of balance.
Practitioners also believe that there is a life force or energy in every body, known as qi (pronounced “chee”). In order for yin and yang to be balanced and for the body to be healthy, qi must be balanced and flowing freely through energy pathways in your body called meridians. When there’s too little or too much qi in one of the meridians, or when the flow of qi is blocked, you become ill.
According to TCM, the inability to conceive does not necessarily imply infertility; it simply means an imbalance in one’s optimum reproductive health. Traditional Chinese practitioners believe reproductive imbalance is caused by one or more of the following syndromes:
- A “deficiency” syndrome prevents the hormonal system from properly influencing the sexual and reproductive functions. This is said to be a weakness of the “kidney and liver.”
- A “stagnancy” syndrome prevents the sexual and reproductive organs from functioning despite normal hormone levels and normal ability to respond to hormones. This is said to involve a stagnancy of “qi and blood,” which restricts circulation to the tissues involved.
- A “heat” syndrome, which causes the affected organs to function abnormally. This type of syndrome can produce abnormal semen quality in males, while gynecologic infections can cause female infertility by blocking the passages, changing the mucous membrane conditions, or influencing the local temperature.
Practitioners believe TCM can increase fertility in women by:
- Establishing a regular menstrual cycle
- Rebalancing hormonal functions, decreasing elevated levels of FSH and encouraging ovulation
- Increasing endometrial lining
- Increasing and regulating beneficial cervical fluid
- Unblocking fallopian tubes
- Decreasing stress levels
- Strengthening the immune system
- Increasing the libido
TCM can increase fertility in men by:
- Improving sperm motility
- Improving semen volume
- Improve sperm quality (morphology)
- Decreasing stress
- Increasing the libido
After a TCM practitioner diagnoses a pattern of disharmony, treatments for fertility generally involve weekly acupuncture appointments and daily consumption of an herbal formula. Diet modifications, exercise, and massage may also be recommended.
Qi meridians are accessible through 400 different acupuncture points on the body and, based on the problem you’re experiencing, different combinations of points are stimulated using needles of varying lengths. Placing these solid, thin needles on certain locations around the body unblocks the meridian obstructions and restores the flow of energy. The needles are left there for 20 to 60 minutes, during which pulsating electrical current may also be applied to the needles to enhance the treatment (called electro-acupuncture).
Western medical experts believe that the needles stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord and brain, promoting the body to heal itself and reduce pain. Another hypothesis is that changes to the central nervous system during acupuncture alter the regulation of blood pressure and flow, as well as body temperature.
Traditional practitioners believe that acupuncture is useful in treating infertility because it helps regulate your body’s system, increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, and stabilizes pituitary and ovarian hormone levels, all of which increases ovarian function in women and sperm production and motility in men. The improved circulation to the ovaries means healthier eggs, and the increased blood flow to the uterus increases the health and thickness of the uterine lining, which helps it retain and nourish a fetus to full-term (see more: Fetal Development by Month). It is also thought that acupuncture helps women to relax during modern fertility treatments.
Several studies have shown acupuncture to increase the success rate of IVF treatments, and to lower the rate of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. Receiving acupuncture treatments before and after IVF embryo transfer may increase the chance that the embryo will be implanted successfully and reduce the chance of miscarriage. The effectiveness of IVF drugs and procedures may also improve if acupuncture is done about once a week in the month or two leading up to the start of IVF and then continued regularly during the whole cycle.
Chinese herbs are used to correct the underlying imbalance in order to restore normal body function. More than 150 different herbs are regularly used to treat infertility, and practitioners mix together up to 30 different herbs to create the perfect concoction specifically designed for the individual patient. Depending on the problem you may ingest the herbs in the form of pills, tablets, granules, or decoctions (teas).
In Chinese clinical studies, daily or periodic use of herbs usually resulted in restored fertility within three to six months. In the U.S., however, the dosage of herbs is usually lower, so it is estimated that pregnancy can be achieved within six to twelve months.
In the U.S., Chinese herbs are considered traditional foods, not drugs; as a result, they have not been formally tested for safety or efficacy. If you are undergoing IVF or other traditional fertility treatment, don’t take any herbs without the consent of your reproductive endocrinologist. In addition, if you suspect you are pregnant, stop taking any herbs immediately, as some may be harmful to the fetus. It is generally considered unnecessary to take herbs during pregnancy; however, women with a history of miscarriage or who are deemed high risk for miscarriage may wish to take certain herbs.
Diet and Exercise
The Chinese believe that diet is one of the three sources of qi (the other two are heredity and environment) and the foods we eat directly influence the excesses and deficiencies in our bodies. They view diet as an extension of herbal medicine and believe it is a way to increase qi, moisture, and blood, and to aid organ function.
According to traditional TCM practitioners, diet is based on the five elements (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood) and eight guiding principles (internal/external, heat/cold, deficiency/excess, and yin/yang). They believe foods have yin and yang, warming and cooling, drying and moistening properties; and as a result, certain foods are beneficial to certain people, depending on who they are and their present condition. For instance, eating salads (cool, moist, yin food) is not recommended for a person who has generally a low basal body temperature (BBT). Conversely, meat such as lamb (warm, yang food) can help a “cold” barren uterus.
In addition to diet, TCM includes a form of exercise called qi gong, which is believed to optimize the flow of qi in the body. Qi gong is not considered a direct therapy for infertility; however, it may be useful for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression many people diagnosed with infertility experience. Qi gong incorporates posture, movement, breathing, meditation, visualization, and conscious intent in order to cleanse or purify the qi.
Tui na Massage
Tui na massage is a complete system of body alignment using acupressure, stretching, and gentle manipulation to restore balance and harmony. It is both a treatment as well as a preventative therapy, and can enhance and hasten the effect of herbs. In addition, the practitioner’s sensitive hands can detect significant diagnostic information, and touch adds a deeply compassionate level to the act of healing. The liniments and oils used in massage also provide an additional channel for herbs to work.
Massage affects not only the physical body but also the qi body and the mental body (emotions, thought, and spiritual faculties). Since both mental and physical health depend on a smooth and abundant flow of qi, massage can effectively treat all three levels. Tui na seeks to establish a more harmonious flow of qi through the system of meridians, allowing the body to naturally heal itself. It is closely related to acupuncture in its use of the meridian system.
If you are undergoing modern fertility treatments and wish to begin TCM, tell your reproductive specialist. It’s beneficial to find a TCM practitioner who is affiliated with a modern medical center so your reproductive specialist and TCM care providers may work together.
To find a TCM practitioner in your area, go to the American Association of Oriental Medicine Website or The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.