THE use of acupuncture to ease pain and relieve stress is well known – but can the expert use of needles help you to have a baby?
Some medical experts are sure it can, others are more doubtful, and there are many contradicting medical papers about whether it works.
But Dr Michael Curtin, the medical director at Champneys, is in no doubt.
What’s more, he says he has a 70 per cent success rate to back up his belief.
In the five years that he has been practising acupuncture and using it to help couples get pregnant he has seen about 70 out of his 100 couples conceive.
It was while he was studying for an MSC at the University of Hertfordshire that Dr Curtin decided to look into the effects of acupuncture on fertility as part of his thesis.
He’d heard about women getting pregnant after having the needle treatment, and wanted to know more.
He said: “There is a lot of mixed evidence out there. I know of papers which show acupuncture does help, although these studies have been done in conjunction with IVF.
“The acupuncture is done during the time of implantation and that’s where it seems to work best.
“There have been no studies of acupuncture on its own.
“On the other hand I have seen three papers which are not convinced that it works at all.
“I think the reason for the debate is because there are so many variables. Couples are infertile for many reasons.
“Acupuncture puts the body back into balance and makes things work better.
“It works in three different ways.
“It has been shown to improve the blood supply to the ovaries and the womb. This improves the quality of follicles and the endrometrium – where the egg embeds. Blood supply is a big factor.
“Another reason is acupuncture helps by improving hormonal balance to facilitate circulation and the last reason is acupuncture is a big relaxer.
“It releases endorphins, the good mood hormones and serotonin. It’s like having a bucket of Prozac.
“Well-being is a factor, which is really important to couples who are planning to have IVF.”
Some people may know a couple who tried IVF for years and then, after turning their back on technological help, have become pregnant anyway.
Dr Curtin says that much of it is to do with relaxation.
“IVF takes over the lives of the couples,” he says. “They have to have sex at a certain time, they watch for periods. Couples often find when the pressure is off it just clicks.
“They are more relaxed, intercourse becomes more spontaneous, it’s almost like the body thinks this is a good time to get pregnant.”
Acupuncture is no help at all if the reasons for infertility are what Dr Curtin describes as ‘mechanical’ problems – blocked or scarred tubes or low sperm count.
But people who go to him usually can’t find a reason why they cannot conceive.
So how many sessions of acupuncture will show results?
Dr Curtin advises a woman to have a treatment every fortnight during the first period of her cycle and the same in the second part of her cycle – six sessions in three months is common.
He said: “I’ve had couples who it clicks with straight away or others for whom it has taken some years.”