Acupuncture has become a common modality used to support an IVF cycle. In recent years there has been a lot of excitement and extensive literature published about the use of acupuncture to support an embryo transfer and specifically, utilising it for pre and post transfer to reduce uterine contractions and spasms, as well as stress and anxiety . There has also been more investigation into using acupuncture in preparation for starting an IVF cycle. These treatments usually begin 12 weeks prior to the IVF cycle and focus on stimulating blood flow to the uterus and the ovaries, to establish a healthy menstrual cycle and ovulation – with the benefit of having a healthy cycle to improve the outcome of IVF.
What many people are not aware of is an acupuncture IVF support treatment that deserves equal attention, with just as many benefits as pre and post embryo transfer acupuncture. That treatment is acupuncture to support recovery from the Egg Retrieval procedure.
Egg Retrieval or egg ‘pick up’ is a hospital day procedure where the eggs are collected from the ovaries and takes about 20-30 minutes under a general anaesthetic. During the procedure, your fertility specialist uses ultrasound to guide a needle into each ovary where the eggs are contained in a fluid within the follicles on your ovaries. The specialist removes fluid from the follicles that look like they’ve grown enough to have an egg inside. You will be in the recovery for about 30 minutes after the surgery and it is at this time the doctor or nurse will often tell you how many eggs they managed to retrieve.
Depending on many factors, the full recovery from egg ‘pick up’ can range from being quick, easy and painless, to a slower recovery and on rare occasions can be quite serious resulting with perhaps a stay in hospital.
The more severe and rare cases are often diagnosed with Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). Symptoms of OHSS includes rapid weight gain, severe abdominal pain, persistent nausea and vomiting, decreased urination, shortness of breath and enlarged and tight abdomen. Milder cases have more mild to moderate abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, nausea, diarrhoea and tenderness in the ovaries. If you are at risk of this, your IVF clinic will keep a close eye on you during your recovery period.
What is not so commonly talked about or written about, is the support that acupuncture can offer in recovering from an egg ‘pick up’. This is particularly important because the egg ‘pick up’ is done only part way through the IVF cycle. Your body still needs to receive and hopefully implant the embryo later in the IVF cycle. Treating any swelling and discomfort after the egg pick up and before embryo transfer can be very beneficial.
During post egg pick up acupuncture sessions, we use acupuncture treatment to support circulation in the pelvic cavity, which is thought to bring healing cells and remove inflammatory cells in the region. The acupuncture needles are placed on the legs, arms and abdomen and many people find they feel the swelling go down instantly, after only 30 minutes with needles.
Along with using acupuncture in post egg retrieval, we always suggest some simple things like drinking plenty of water, eating lots of fibre and resting, whilst still getting some very gentle exercise like slow walking.
If you are going in for an egg retrieval and feel you might be at risk because you fit into one of the following categories:
- have been diagnosed with PCOS,
- have seen a large number of follicles on scans,
- have a low body weight,
- are under 30 years old or
- have had previous OHSS.
We suggest organising an acupuncture treatment 1-3 days post the surgery. The good news is that if you are doing a fresh embryo transfer in that cycle, you can often combine the post egg pick up acupuncture with the pre- embryo transfer acupuncture to provide support for both procedures.
If you are seeing an acupuncturist and soon to do an egg retrieval it is worth asking them to suggest a plan for you around the time of the surgery. If you are not seeing an acupuncturist and feel that you could benefit from using acupuncture to recover from an impending egg retrieval, it is worth seeing a practitioner at least one week prior to the egg ‘pick up’ so they know your history and constitution and can guide you on the correct timing of treatments.
 Effect of acupuncture on symptoms of anxiety in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: a prospective randomised controlled study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20621276
By Joanne Sharkey, FGHG Acupuncturist
Joanne has been in clinical practice for more than 10 years. Her experience and knowledge make her a highly effective practitioner to support women and couples in starting a family. She individually tailors treatments, herbal, dietary & lifestyle advice for preconception care, health during pregnancy and birth preparation for a safe delivery. Joanne also has a special interest in treating PCOS holistically to regulate cycles as well as the hormonal side effects of PCOS including infertility