Sometimes getting pregnant is hard.
The causes are many. The stress of a fast-paced life or demanding job can throw the body out of balance. Age is another factor. Many wait until they have established careers and are financially stable, or perhaps until they can afford a home - or to stay at home - before having a baby.
Unfortunately, all this impacts a couple’s ability to conceive.
In a man, mental, physical and emotional stress affects sperm quality and count. In a woman, it can prevent ovulation or affect the quality of her eggs. The fertility of women also declines with age, beginning at age 25, says Dr Christopher Chen of Christopher Chen Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Singapore. For men, there is a progressive decline in fertility from the age of 50.
“If, despite regular intercourse every two to three days, pregnancy does not occur after six months to one year, then the couple may have fertility problems. The problems could be due to either the man or the woman, or combined,” he says.
Fortunately, there are many things couples can do to increase their chances of getting pregnant. A change in lifestyle that reduces stress and increases opportunities to relax - and for intercourse – can help.
“Ultimately, couples need to make time to be together and to have more frequent intercourse. The best time for a couple to conceive is between Day 11 and Day 16 of a 28- to 30-day menstrual cycle,” Dr Chen says.
For couples who have been trying for a while, TCM can also help.
Restoring balance through TCM
Often the first approach in any TCM treatment is to restore balance in the body.
When there are problems with conceiving, the focus is particularly on the kidneys, spleen and liver which govern the regulation of blood and qi.
The spleen is the main ‘factory’ that produces blood and qi, while the liver is responsible for maintaining a smooth and even flow of these two important essences. The kidneys, meanwhile, play a major role in successful conception and normal reproduction, says Senior Physician Zhong Xi Ming from the Eu Yan Sang Premier TCM Centre in Singapore.
Problems with fertility - including endometrioses, fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and premature ovarian failure (POF) - are often related to imbalances in these systems.
Endometrioses and fibroids are both are both considered processes of stagnated uterine blood. They are caused by tissue growth in the reproductive system, which damages the reproductive organs, preventing conception.
PCOS and POF are seen as manifestations of hormonal imbalances. PCOS, the most frequent endocrine-related problem in women of child-bearing age, presents itself in numerous ways: irregular menstruation, ovulation-related infertility, polycystic ovaries, excess male hormones, are some examples. POF, meanwhile, involves the loss of ovary function before 40 years of age.
Herbal prescriptions and treatments are, therefore, aimed at nourishing and restoring balance to the reproductive system, liver, kidneys and spleen.
A Holistic Approach
TCM, however, does not stop there. Treatment is holistic, and addresses everything from diet and adequate exercise to restful sleep to good stress management techniques.
“We also want to improve all systems of your body and mind. If you are sleeping well, are full of vitality, have proper digestion and healthy sense of self, then all systems will work more efficiently, including your reproductive system,” says Senior Physician Zhong.
The overarching principle of TCM when it comes to fertility is to “cultivate the soil before planting the seed. We treat holistically, taking into account your physical, emotional and spiritual aspect,” she stresses.
Acupuncture and Reproductive Health
Beyond herbal remedies, acupuncture can help regulate the function of the relevant organs to strengthen and invigorate the whole body.
Acupuncture treatment regulates the flow of qi and blood, nourishing where there is a deficiency, draining where there is an excess, and stimulating flow where there is stagnation.
This treatment has found backing within the scientific community. Among them, researchers from New York’s Weill Cornell Medical Center, reviewing existing studies, found that acupuncture helps by:
- Reducing the stress hormones that interfere with ovulation
- Normalising the hormones that regulate ovulation so an egg is released
- Increasing blood flow to the uterus, and thereby improving the chances of a fertilised egg getting implanted
- Improving the ovulation cycle of a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which makes getting pregnant difficult
- Improving pregnancy rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF)
While TCM is an alternative for women who wants to avoid taking fertility drugs, or are not eligible for IVF, it is also used to great effect in combination with conventional fertility treatments. Always remember, however, to keep both your doctor and TCM practitioner informed of all medicines, herbs and other treatments you are receiving.