It’s often not until fertility has become infertility that a women start unpacking all that this condition can mean for a family. There are a lot of options available for preparing your body for conception and increasing your fertility with integrative medicine practices. Allison Andersen, acupuncturist and Chinese medicine herbalist, shares a holistic Chinese medicine take on improving fertility.
One of the most important things about treating infertility is getting to know the patient. Each woman has a different set of issues and symptoms that makes her unique. With women, it is often understanding their different stress levels, sleep issues, bowel issues and, of course, their cycles. This holistic approach identifies each individuals needs on her path to fertility.
The conversation normally starts with stress. When trying to conceive and not having any success, the amount of stress that a woman puts on herself increases dramatically. But as with everything, it manifests differently for each woman. Some women show a more outward physical stress: tension in shoulders and neck, exerting extreme control physically over her body, clenching of her jaw, sighing and appetite changes. Now, other women may present with more emotional reactions to stress, like a flux of emotions toward either anger, irritability, fear, sadness, or anxiety, in many cases a combination of many. Their reactions to stress might be disproportionate to the actual stress because their bodies and minds can’t handle any more.
We know that stress can affect a woman’s hormones. Which, when unbalanced, can create an abnormal cycle, affect weight, sleep, bowel issues, and lessen the body’s immune system.
Once we understand the stressors and how she is reacting to it, it’s then important to understand a woman’s monthly cycle. It’s not always the most comfortable conversation for women, but it’s really vital to understanding fertility health.
In Chinese medicine, the ideal cycle should flow with is day 1 bleeding starts with crayon-red blood, no cramps, no clots, and lasts 4 to no more than 7 days. There should be 28 days between cycles. A woman’s knowledge of her cycle is incredibly important. Is this not the case? From a Chinese Medicine perspective, everything in is connected. Here are the key factors to consider for an optimal cycle to prep for conception..
Length of Cycle
The length of the cycle is the first day of her period counted through to the last day before the next period starts. Is it 23 days? 28 days? 35 days? Is it irregular, meaning each month is different? Do you get more than one period in a month? If so, what is that ‘cycle’ like?
When the cycle is abnormal, the follicular phase and/or luteal phase can be affected causing less than healthy or number of follicles, or immature/older eggs that will not be viable.
The next is flow. How many days is your flow? Is it 2 days? 4 days? 7 days? How heavy is it? Now because everyone has a different definition of heavy, medium and light flow, my description of normal is fully soaking a regular to super tampon and having to change it 4‐6 times a day. Less than that or using light tampons is light and changing more frequently or using super plus tampons more than the normal description is heavier.
What color is the blood? Is it red like a crayon red? Is it darker like a merlot? Is it pale? Is it brown? This is important because we view the color of the blood as vital information to the treatment.
The next important aspect is cramping. Where do you feel your cramps? if you get any. Is it centralized on your lower abdomen over the uterus/bladder area? Is it more out to the sides nearer to the hip bones? Is it in your back? Do you feel weakness or soreness anywhere in your body before or during your period? Does heat or cold help? Does pressure help? Is the pain sharp or dull? Do you get clots? If so, how frequently and what is the size like?
If there is any medical diagnosis of any kind this is when we tend to talk about it: PCOS, endometriosis, lower egg count, ‘unexplained infertility’ or any other issues, including a history of pelvic inflammation or infections needs to be discussed.
It is also good to talk about PMS and if you have any symptoms: increased emotions, cramping, breast tenderness, headaches, changes in bowels and sleep patterns we need to address the symptoms to help regulate and manage your cycles, stress, and fertility better.
It is important to have a solid bowel movement every day. Now this means a long, completely formed, solid bowel that is easy to pass without straining or feeling tired after. It should feel complete. No undigested food, blood, or mucous. It should wipe clean, easily, and not have an overly strong odor. The reason this is so important because it reveals what else is going on in the lower abdomen. It helps to know how your elimination is because stress levels can be affected by bowel frequency and nutrient absorption as well as reabsorption of what is stuck and needs to be eliminated.
When bowels are affected it is the improper elimination and absorption of vital nutrients that the body needs to function. This feeds the body what it needs to help keep the body strong, so that it can properly support a healthy fetus. Plus, when one can’t go to the bathroom everyday, stress increases dramatically, the pain of not going or the frequency of going too much can increase stress, and symptoms can exacerbate during your period.
Sleep is vital. This is when the body does its repair work and helps the body function optimally. One should fall asleep in 15‐20 minutes of putting your head on the pillow. You shouldn’t wake during the night, not even to use the restroom. You should wake in the morning refreshed, without the dire need for coffee or a groggy/hazy feeling or headache. If you wake up not feeling rested, you are not getting a good night sleep. Very vivid dreams can also interfere with sleep; tossing and turning as well. If you wake feeling like you actually ran a mile in your dream, your sleep is not sound.
Sleep is vital, if you do not get enough or you are getting ‘patched up’ sleep. Where a little bit of sleep here, wake up there, maybe go back to sleep again or not. The body can not function, it is harder for your system to regulate, and it makes it harder to treat any and all symptoms.
I know this seems like a lot of information to think about, but, in Chinese Medicine, everything is connected. The goal with treating fertility isn’t just helping to get you pregnant, but to get you into the best place to conceive, continue to thrive during your pregnancy, and handle those wonderful, but stressful first few years with your baby.
I have been blessed over the years to help a number of women, and while I wish I could help everyone, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the amount of time it would take to be affective isn’t conducive to the amount of time a woman has to conceive. Sometimes medical intervention is needed and we work with the IVF and IUI schedules. Other times, I am not able to help beyond stress management through the adoption process. No matter the road to motherhood, it takes being as healthy as possible to handle the stress and life altering aspects of being a mom.