How healthy is your baby’s head and neck?

Nicole Cukierman - baby's head

Have you noticed any asymmetry in your baby’s head shape or neck movements. If so, new mama’s, read this:

A misshaped head, clinically known as plagiocephaly is a common condition affecting up to 1 in 5 babies in their first 2 months of life. This is most prevalent at 4 months of age as prior to this babies do not have the strength to hold up their head when sitting without support.

Strains in-utero position, during or after birth may predispose neck restriction leading to a head turning preference which may then result in unilateral flattening of the head. A 2008 study indicated that 73% of newborns have one or more asymmetry, 16% of these had torticollis aka neck tightness, limiting their range of motion.

If a baby is born with a restricted neck they are susceptible to spending time with their head resting on the one side which may lead to unevenness over time. 1 in 3 mums also reported feeling that their baby remained in the same position or was stuck during their final few weeks of pregnancy. Studies have linked babies being in a confined position for six weeks or more with an increase the incidence of torticollis when compared to restricted in-utero position for shorter periods of time.

Worried this may be present in your bub? Here’s our advice:
  • See an Osteopath trained in paediatrics: A 2011 study on the impact of osteopathic intervention for infants under 6.5 months old with positional plagiocephaly found significant improvements in asymmetry following 4 osteopathic treatments over a 2-month period.
  • Tummy time: When bubs are positioned on their stomachs it strengthens their neck, trunk, shoulder and hands. It also prevents pressure on the head and therefore flattening.
  • Repositioning: Encourage babies to turn their head to the non-preferred side. You can try this by sitting on their non-preferred side while playing or positioning their cot to be facing the window, pictures or toys in their room to capture their attention.
  • Early intervention: Early diagnosis and treatment is always preferred. Early intervention for plagiocephaly is positively correlated with an increased potential for correction.

Without intervention plagiocephaly can worsen with time. Are you concerned about your child? Come see our paediatric trained osteopath, Nicole Cukierman.

Dr Nicole Cukierman is available for one on one consultations in person, as well as digital consults. Book in with Nicole and find out what’s possible for your situation.


  • Looman, W. S., & Flannery, A. B. (2012). Evidence-based care of the child with deformational plagiocephaly, Part I: assessment and diagnosis. Journal of pediatric health care : official publication of National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates & Practitioners26(4), 242–253.
  • Flannery, A. B., Looman, W. S., & Kemper, K. (2012). Evidence-based care of the child with deformational plagiocephaly, part II: management. Journal of pediatric health care : official publication of National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates
  • Stellwagen, L., Hubbard, E., Chambers, C., & Jones, K. L. (2008). Torticollis, facial asymmetry and plagiocephaly in normal newborns. Archives of disease in childhood93(10), 827–831.
  • Lessard, S., Gagnon, I., & Trottier, N. (2011). Exploring the impact of osteopathic treatment on cranial asymmetries associated with nonsynostotic plagiocephaly in infants. Complementary therapies in clinical practice17(4), 193–198.

Pelvic Girdle Pain

Pelvic Girdle Pain
Pelvic girdle pain. What is it and what can be done to help?

Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) is a term given to describe the discomfort felt anywhere from the front of the pelvis (pubic symphysis) to the back of the pelvis (sacrum) and even around to the sides of the pelvis (hips).

During pregnancy 1 in 4 women will experience pelvic girdle pain due to changes the body will undergo in a relatively short period of time. This can occur at any stage of the pregnancy however, it is most commonly experienced in the second and third trimesters.

What causes Pelvic Girdle Pain?

Ligaments throughout the body stretch and soften to accommodate for the growing baby. When these ligaments relax our muscles are required to work extra hard which may result in pain. Additionally increases in load, changes in posture, centre of gravity, walking style and alterations in core function can contribute to pelvic girdle pain.

While some individuals accommodate well to these changes, experiencing limited or no pain, it can be debilitating for others and 7% of women will continue to suffer with this pain after their baby is born – requiring ongoing treatment.

Common symptoms

Sharp, stabbing or grabbing pain that is aggravated climbing up and down stairs, getting dressed/undressed, rolling over in bed, getting in and out of the car, extended periods standing, sitting or walking and pain on sexual intercourse.

Helpful tips

If you are experiencing pelvic girdle pain try these helpful hints:

  • Sleep with a pillow between your knees
  • Keep knees together when rolling in bed or getting in and out of car
  • Focus on maintaining good posture while standing and sitting. Avoid crossing your legs
  • Avoid heavy lifting (your joints are already under enough load), prolonged sitting, wearing heels, carrying uneven loads e.g. bag on shoulder or toddler on hip
  • Wear support bracing or garments such as tubigrip, SRC shorts or Serola belt

The specific tissues causing pain differs between individuals and it is best to seek professional advice from an osteopath with experience in this area for appropriate treatment.

Written by Nicole Cukierman

Nicole is Fertile Ground Health Group’s resident Osteopath. If you’re seeking treatment please feel welcome to book in with Nicole.

Pregnancy & Skin Changes

Pregnancy & Skin
Pregnancy & Skin – how are they related?

Pregnancy is an exciting journey, but may involve a set of new and frustrating skin challenges. The body undergoes a tremendous amount of change through pregnancy with more than 90% of women experiencing significant and complex skin changes. These changes may be desirable for some, but for others, pregnancy may trigger the onset or worsening of pigmentation, acne or eczema. 

Please understand that the tips included below are a general guide only. Each person requires individualised treatment as we’re all unique – so make sure you book in to get tailored advice before self prescribing as it may not suit your situation or health needs


Hyperpigmentation (melasma) is one of the most common and early signs of pregnancy. High levels of Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone (MSH), oestrogen and progesterone are believed to be responsible for hyperpigmentation. Progesterone appears to increase oestrogen to signal melanin output, which stimulates pigmentary changes in the skin. This type of pigmentation is seen more in those with darker skin and hair. Melasma is said to be caused by stagnation of Liver energy, which effects the movement of qi and blood throughout the body. Acupuncture around the area of pigmentation is thought to help improve the flow of energy and blood, so that melasma are less pronounced in colour and size.

Tips – Protect the skin from sun exposure with physical sunscreens, as these reflect the heat away from the skin, which is good for a pregnancy-flushed face. Use a natural SPF 30+, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. For targeting localised brown spots, opt for Vitamin C. For safe exfoliation, use Lactic Acid or a gentle exfoliating enzyme mask to brighten the skin.

Avoid – Limit exposure to ultraviolet light. Topical formulations containing hydroquinone and tretinoin should be avoided in pregnancy, but may be added after pregnancy, or as advised by your doctor. 


Although some women experience improvements or no change in acne during pregnancy, a substantial number suffer acne flare ups during this time, which may also indicate a higher risk for similar flare ups during future pregnancies. A shift in hormones, specifically progesterone, estrogen and androgens, during pregnancy can stimulate the sebaceous and sweat glands, resulting in more perspiration and oilier skin triggering breakouts. Studies show hormone levels spike during the earliest stages of pregnancy and often again in the third trimester, which may explain the initial onset of hormonal breakouts and then another surge of acne toward the end of pregnancy and up until birth. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, when combined with dietary and lifestyle modifications, may help to positively impact any skin changes, improve digestive function, reduce inflammation and redness, swelling and painful pimples, and bring your body into harmony.

Tips – Opt for oil regulating products such as niacinamide (B3) and bentonite clay spot treatment. Reduce acne triggering bacteria with zinc, topical probiotic/ferments, and antioxidants such as resveratrol and green tea.

Avoid – Concentrated salicylic acid formulations should not be used, as well as prescription and oral retinoids, and high strength topical retinoids. Always check the ingredients of your skin care for potential toxins.


Atopic dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema, is another commonly seen skin condition that may be worsened through pregnancy. The reason for this is not well understood, but may be due to the effects of oestrogen on cellular responses in the immune system. Specifically, this involves a shift from cell-mediated immunity toward humoral immunity. Additionally, the high estrogen state of pregnancy stimulates mast cell activation and allergic responses. The relationships between skin, brain, and gut health and between eczema and the nervous system suggest an important role for acupuncture due to its known impact on calming nervous system hyperreactivity. 

Tips – Fish oils deliver anti-inflammatory omega 3s, which is great for skin inflammation and dryness of the skin. Probiotics containing lactobacillus rhamnosus are safe to use through pregnancy and helpful in atopic conditions. Mild gel/cream cleansers and products should be used, containing calming and soothing ingredients like Panthenol, chamomile and Licorice root. Barrier-building ingredients such as oats (Avena Sativa), sunflower seed extract and borage seed oil reduce irritation. 

Avoid – No hot showers or abrasive scrubs, as these will irritate the skin. Stay away from artificial fragrances and direct application of essential oils.

Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine

Because acupuncture sessions to improve skin conditions are focused on moving qi and blood, treatment will depend on your current health and stage of pregnancy. Sessions with me will mostly involve a combination of facial gua sha and sliding cupping to move lymph, increase blood circulation to the area, and encourage any skin changes to move towards skin healing, alongside constitutional and pregnancy support acupuncture, nutrition and lifestyle counselling.

Written by Holly Peyton-Smith

Holly Peyton-Smith is an Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Medicine Practitioner at Fertile Ground Health Group.

If you’re suffering with a skin condition and seeking treatment, please feel welcome to make a booking with Holly.


Is men’s health important for fertility?

(Isn’t fertility a “women’s problem”?)

Written by Charmaine Dennis, naturopath

The truth is, male fertility is declining at such a rapid rate that it is not just an issue for up to 50% of couples experiencing infertility, it has become a real public health issue.

Sperm concentrations in western men have declined 50% over the past 40 years according to a recent research review.1 Particularly associated with advancing age, lifestyle, diet choices and environmental factors, the consequences on the future of human population is concerning to say the least.

The information we share with our patients at Fertile Ground is so important for men to embrace – environmental, nutritional, physical exercise and psychological support, combined with the use of appropriate supplementation. Attention and focus here can really improve semen parameters and prevent infertility, improving the chance for a couple to conceive spontaneously or optimise their chances of conception.2-4 Where possible, it is just as important for men donating sperm too.

In our experience, men are not always on board with exploring this territory let alone committing to all the changes. They may be too confronted or embarrassed or just unwilling to wade through this kind of information about health and fertility like women often are.

We also know that some men really see how their sperm is a reflection of their overall health and they are ready to make change and prevent more potentially serious health consequences in the future, as well as improve their sperm health and fertility. When men get on board with this, we do see time and time again how important it is for the women they are making babies with.

When men make a concerted effort to help improve their own fertility and the healthy conception and pregnancy outcomes, women feel so supported, so much more able to adhere to the recommendations themselves, and as an added bonus of course, it is good for the relationship too!

  1. Levine H, Jørgensen N, Martino-Andrade A, et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2017;23(6):646-659. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx022.
  2. Ilacqua A, Izzo G, Emerenziani G Pietro, Baldari C, Aversa A. Lifestyle and fertility: The influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2018;16(1):1-11. doi:10.1186/s12958-018-0436-9.
  3. Salas-Huetos A, Bulló M, Salas-Salvadó J. Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: A systematic review of observational studies. Hum Reprod Update. 2017;23(4):371-389. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx006.
  4. Gaskins AJ, Chavarro JE. Diet and fertility: a review. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018;218(4):379-389. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2017.08.010.

Does acupuncture really help improve IVF outcomes?


The latest review of evidence is out and yes the results are clear. It seems it has been missed by many as it was published in the holidays on the 2nd January 2019!

This is considered the most up to date evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis and should help to clarify the benefits and rectify the recent misunderstanding from a study published in 2018 that put the use of acupuncture under question.

If you are interested to read the research in full, follow the link to the review and jump to the discussion section for details on effectiveness.

Here is the link: “Acupuncture performed around the time of embryo transfer: a systematic review and meta-analysis”  Smith, Caroline A. et al. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Volume 38 , Issue 3 , 364 – 379

In this review of all of the latest and relevant evidence from English speaking publications, Smith concludes that:

  • Acupuncture with IVF may have potentially significant benefits when compared to IVF only in regard to both clinical pregnancy AND live birth rates.
  • Acupuncture seems most effective when there are more treatments (higher dose) than just pre and posttransfer acupuncture – especially with treatment in both the stimulation and implantation phase.
  • Further benefits are seen when points selected are tailored to the individual rather than using a pre-prescribed treatment protocol.
  • Benefits are especially true for women who have had multiple previous IVF cycles.

What has been confusing in recent research and discussed in this review is that when acupuncture is compared to sham acupuncture as the control, the benefits are not seen for acupuncture over sham acupuncture. Rather than negating the effects of acupuncture (which seem clearly beneficial), this begs further questions about the placebo effect of acupuncture and/or the validity of sham acupuncture – these devices or points used may not be inert after all and have some effect.

It seems acupuncture is in fact considered effective when compared to IVF alone and worth pursuing for IVF patients.

Smith also mentions how acupuncture may be working via the stress relieving and psychosocial benefits with a significant anxiolytic effect reported and potential beneficial effects such as increase in uterine blood flow, endogenous endorphins and cytokines. The non-needling benefits of acupuncture treatment (the holistic nature of a consultation with palpation, education, self-care and diagnosis etc) are discussed too.

Smith further states that acupuncture remains a low-risk intervention.

While it is so good to read this validation of the use of acupuncture during IVF, for us, although our patients having a take home baby is obviously a key desired outcome, benefits of treatment are not only about the pregnancy and live birth rates. Reduced anxiety levels and a better ability to cope with infertility and IVF is so important for people with poor outcomes, fragile emotional health, and those doing back to back cycles who need to ‘gear up again’ after a negative result. This effect cannot be underestimated. Sometimes it can be the difference between patients feeling like they have the internal resources to take on the next cycle, or need a break. Regular acupuncture with practitioners skilled in working with IVF patients can provide support they need to navigate their experience as seamlessly as possible, potentially with fewer side effects and positive outcomes more quickly.

We continue to offer acupuncture services to support IVF patients at Fertile Ground Health Group as a 1:1 appointment or in our multi-bed facility which works really well for the flexibility of fitting IVF transfer patients in on the day when they find out their transfer times.

We generally recommend patients come in at least once before the transfer as the follicles are stimulated, one to two times on the day of transfer, and another around five to seven days after transfer for implantation support.

Even more ideally where possible and time permitting, we recommend weekly appointments in the two to three cycles leading up to IVF.

Hope you find this helpful. If you are considering booking in. you can see our practitioner profiles here or go straight to our online booking page here.

Please help us share this information to anyone you know involved with IVF as a specialist, practitioner or patient to ensure they know about choices available for appropriate supportive treatments.

Our acupuncture team is more than happy to write or speak about this new systematic review and meta-analysis to IVF and fertility groups too. Please be in touch if you have an opportunity for us to be involved in spreading the word about this.



Charmaine Dennis is the founding director of Fertile Ground Health Group and has been practicing naturopathic fertility and preconception health care for nearly 20 years. She is passionate about collaborative health care and ensuring that people going through IVF are given accurate information about all the many ways IVF outcomes can be improved with lifestyle and complementary medicine interventions.



Is there an acupuncture treatment to support IVF?

Ash Acupuncture

The use of acupuncture treatment to support IVF has fast become a popular treatment. When considering the use of Acupuncture to support IVF and other ART there are a few key components of treatment to consider.

Some people undertake only the minimum pre-transfer and post-transfer appointments to support the embryo transfer.  Most embark on a more holistic program of treatment aiming to treat the whole person and underlying issues that may be affecting fertility.

At Fertile Ground Health Group, it is our preference to treat more holistically, and we would usually see patients weekly in the lead up to egg collection and transfer.  We also have an excellent system that allows us to cater to short term patients, however most current research suggests just doing embryo transfer (ET) acupuncture does not appear to benefit IVF outcomes when compared to any controls; but may improve outcomes when compared to no treatment.

What does the research tell us?

Acupuncture is associated with more live births when administered at a larger dose (9-12 visits prior to ET). At FGHG we recommend regular weekly treatments with women and couples trying to conceive and undergoing IVF.  Working weekly enables us to address underlying health issues that may be affecting fertility, as well as working across a cycle to maximise hormone balancing and cycle regulation, follicular and endometrial development, stress as well as addressing any side effects from medications.

Acupuncture is proposed to aid fertility in three ways:

  1. By inhibiting central sympathetic nerve activity to promote vasodilation and increase blood flow to ovaries and uterus.
  2. Inducing neurotransmitters, which activate hormonal activity in the pituitary gland, increasing ovulation, menstrual regularity, and overall fertility.
  3. Increase the ‘feel good hormones’ mitigating adverse stress response.
When should I start acupuncture in relation to my IVF or ART cycle?

We suggest starting acupuncture as many as three cycles prior to starting IVF or any ART, this suggestion is based on the whole systems TCM approach. The Whole systems approach has shown significantly more benefits compared with just doing protocol acupuncture for embryo transfer.

In any Acupuncture treatment, it is also important to note that the treatment is always designed in relation to what a woman needs constitutionally and specifically at the time of treatment.  Based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) your practitioner will assess your health and address any concerns presenting on the day.  For example if a patient has a headache, or pain remaining from egg collection, point selection takes this into account.

A follow up treatment one week after the transfer is also recommended in support of possible implantation.  This is also a time when many women find their stress levels and anxiety start to peak. The relaxing effects of Acupuncture as well as the chance to talk to their practitioner about how they are feeling during this waiting period is highly advantageous.  Treatment aims are similar to the post transfer treatment – settling everything down, supporting implantation and circulation to the uterus, etc.

Prior to starting any IVF cycles, Acupuncture treatment for approximately three months prior for both partners is advisable. Acupuncture is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a treatment for infertility and is used to help the couple to optimise their health and maximise their chances of success. However even without this, the research into the effects of Acupuncture on the outcomes of IVF cycles by just focusing on the pre- and post-transfer treatments is more than favourable.

I want to know more

In 2008 the British Medical Journal published a world first meta-analysis by highly respected Cochrane Review researchers and scientists.  The meta-analysis assessed the main research from around the world pertaining to acupuncture and IVF.  The results clearly showed a positive association between the use of acupuncture and increased success rates with IVF.  For more information on the Cochrane Review and the meta-analysis, see:

 Manheimer E, Zhang G, Udoff L, et al. Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2008;336 (7643):545-549.

For more studies see below

Impact of Whole Systems Traditional Chinese Medicine on In Vitro Fertilization Outcomes

The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture, and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: a pilot study.

Boost your immunity to prevent winter illness

Now is the optimal time to take action on your winter immune prevention program instead of allowing a winter infection to put your life on hold. An effective winter immunity and prevention program offers you support to help protect you from the dreaded ‘winter lurgy’, minimising the impact that illness can have on your life.

The common cold is easily transmitted and responsible for most absences from work and school annually. Our aim in prevention is not merely to strengthen the immune system but to keep the body in a state of balance so that illness does not occur, or so that when it does, the illness is only mild because there is only a small imbalance to correct. This works best when we strengthen the whole person and the whole family alike, while simultaneously strengthening the immune system.

Good Bugs, good gut, good immune system

When it comes to boosting immunity to prevent cold and flu, surprisingly gut health is a key area of focus. The digestive tract is in close contact with the largest part of the immune system in the body – over 70%. It is also home to a plethora of bacteria known as our gut microbiota. Certain ‘good’ bacteria, naturally found living in a balanced relationship in the gut, have supportive benefits – stimulating the activity of the immune system and boosting our immune defences. It is essential to support gut function to help reduce your risk of developing a winter illness.

We can support these good bacteria by eating certain foods that cause them to increase in number. Food is a powerful tool for boosting gut health and can be used safely for children, the elderly and anyone with poor immunity. Here is what to include:

  • Eat a ‘rainbow of fruits and vegetables’ – colourful fruits and veggies contain polyphenols that are literally food for good bacteria. Purple are some of the strongest so think blueberries, blackberries, plums, grapes, purple cabbage, carrots, onion and potatoes – farmers markets are a good place to find these.


  • Prebiotic foods – specific superfoods that good bacteria feed on include chicory root, dandelion greens, jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, barley, oats, apples, flaxseeds and seaweed (raw is better than cooked).
  • Probiotic foods – these contain live bacteria that are friends to your good gut bacteria and include coconut yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, pickled foods: fermented sauerkraut, kimchi.

Specific strains of probiotics are demonstrated to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of infection such as colds and influenza and can be prescribed by your naturopath where appropriate.

Vitamin D prevents the sneeze

Supporting immunity is one of vitamin D’s numerous roles, specifically in the defence against infections as it improves the antimicrobial properties of immune cells on exposure to microbes.

Research supports the use of vitamin D supplementation to reduce infections. One study showed that, over a three year period, women taking vitamin D were three times less likely to experience cold and flu symptoms compared to those who did not. The study highlighted, that a low dose of D3 drastically reduced the seasonality of reported colds and flu, whilst a moderate dose virtually eradicated all reports of upper respiratory tract infections.¹

Adequate sun exposure is vital for maintaining vitamin D levels. Back this up with dietary sources including eggs and fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon. Getting sun can be hard depending on your location and diet isn’t enough alone so vitamin D3 supplementation needs to form part of your winter immune prevention program to reduce the incidence of cold and flu.

Zinc prevents infections

Zinc has immune boosting benefits as it plays an integral role in the maintenance and functioning of the immune system. The most potent food sources include: oysters, red meat, chicken, eggs, nuts, sesame & pumpkin seeds, spinach, mushrooms. Higher doses of zinc in combination with vitamin C in the form of a supplement can be used to support the immune system and help reduce the incidence of infections.

What else? Prevention & treatment starts at home
  • Minimise dairy, sugar, white wheat flour, cold drinks and processed juices as these foods can generate excess mucous and support infectious conditions.
  • Maximise warming foods with ginger, onion, garlic, chilli, peppers, mustard seeds, sage, thyme, fennel and fenugreek to clear mucous and enhance immunity.
  • Keep warm, dry hair after washing and ensure any infections are treated with bed rest.
  • Immuni-tea (see recipe below)
Sarah’s immune boosting immuni-tea for two


  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 1 qtr lemon (skin on)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp cinnamon powder
  • 6 cloves
  • ¼ tsp fresh chopped chilli
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500ml water

Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to the boil for at least 1 minute.

Strain the tea into your favourite cup and drink warm throughout the day.



By Sarah Harris,  FGHG Family and Paediatric Naturopath

sarahharris_edited_colourSarah is a qualified and experienced naturopath, herbalist and nutritionist with more than a decade of knowledge and practice in complementary medicine. As a mother of three children and highly skilled in providing  naturopathic care, Sarah has a special interest in treating children of all ages. Her empathetic and kind nature instills comfort and confidence when providing advice to parents about their child’s health and she works well with families and individuals to find solutions for health concerns.


  1. Braun L, Cohen M. Herbs and Natural Supplements. 2nd edn. Chatsworth, News South Wales: Churchill Livingstone, 2010; 701-710.

Acupuncture for improving sperm quality

Acupuncture for Improving Sperm Quality

Do you really need to improve your sperm health and can acupuncture help? If your semen analysis results came back less-than-ideal you are not alone. Male fertility is a common reason people go to IVF with research showing that 40% of infertility cases are due to poor sperm quality. The good news is that research also shows there is a lot you can do about it. Even if your results came back in the okay range you can still improve your sperm-health even further, giving you the best chance of conceiving.

Do I need to improve my sperm?

The answer is that we all probably could! Since 1989, there has been a 30% decrease in sperm count in the general male population and about one in twenty men has a fertility issue, even if they live a seemingly healthy lifestyle. This may be due to the plethora of environmental toxins we are all exposed to that are known or suspected to impact sperm quality.

Like women, men’s fertility also declines with age:

  • A man’s sperm volume drops by 20% between ages of 30 and 50.
  • The sperm motility (i.e. “swimming power”) drops 3.1% for each advancing year, whereas the percentage of sperm who swim in a purposeful manner decrease by 5%.
  • The older the man, the longer the length of time for his female partner to conceive as well as an increased incidence of miscarriage, regardless of her age.

Many men present with borderline sperm counts that have been deemed ‘fine’. There are a number of considerations we would take into account when assessing the values attributed to sperm counts. Firstly, it is important to know that reference ranges account for normal values in a given population. If the whole population has low values, then normal will be somewhere within a range of overall low values. This is shown clearly when looking at research comparing changes in normal values in a population over time. We also see that overall sperm counts have declined rapidly in the years 1935 to the present.

Secondly, during IVF in particular, low sperm counts are not considered to be a problem due to technological advancements that allow doctors to ‘choose the best’ sperm and inject it directly into the egg (Intercytoplasmic Sperm Injection, or ICSI).  From a natural medicine point of view, we would consider it important to improve the condition of the sperm overall to increase the likelihood of obtaining a healthy embryo when a healthy egg and sperm meet.

As an example of how sperm health affects embryo viability, consider that a non-smoking woman has been shown to have a 30% higher chance of miscarriage when her partner is a smoker than a couple who are both non-smokers. Studies have also shown that miscarriage and birth defect rates increase when fathers have lower sperm counts.

How is sperm evaluated for quality?

Sperm is evaluated according to four main parameters:

  • Volume (i.e. how much semen per ejaculation)
  • Density/concentration/count (i.e. how many million/ml)
  • Morphology (i.e. % of normal v. abnormal in shape)
  • Motility (i.e. % of moving/swimming sperm)

If any of these parameters are abnormal, fertility may be compromised.

Can Acupuncture improve sperm quality?

Acupuncture has been found to improve the motility of sperm by improving its zinc:cadmium ratio. Zinc improves sperm motility whereas cadmium causes thicker semen, thereby slowing the sperm. SOD, an antioxidant which increases both sperm count and motility is also positively influenced by acupuncture.  Furthermore, acupuncture can increase levels of metenkephalin (an opioid which allows sperm to remain mobile for longer) in sperm. Therefore, acupuncture around the female’s ovulation may increase the chance of conception.

Acupuncture has been shown to increase the percentage of sperm with normal morphology. Sperm takes between 70 – 90 days to fully mature, with some studies showing positive results after only 5 weeks (bi-weekly treatments). Improving morphology with acupuncture has also been shown to improve the fertilisation rate using Intercytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI, an IVF procedure).

Where do the needles go?

Acupuncture points for improving sperm quality are not located on the genitals! Rather, points on the lower back, lower leg &/or abdomen are used. These points are generally painless and are used to increase a person’s strength and vitality, improve digestion, promote good-quality sleep and relieve stress. Any other health problems are simultaneously addressed during an acupuncture treatment, since we believe that your whole wellbeing is important to the health of your sperm. At Fertile Ground, we consider 10 weekly treatments to be optimal owing to sperm maturation time, although a minimum of 4-5 weekly treatments can still achieve positive results.

What else can help?

Diet and nutrition, lifestyle, weight, exercise, environmental toxins and smoking (including marijuana) also play a huge role in sperm health. We believe the most powerful approach is to make changes in these areas together with having acupuncture to really sky-rocket your fertility. This is were we see the best results. In fact, acupuncture can help with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and treatment can be tailored to address this along with improving sperm quality.



Research and references
Jensen, TK, Carlsen, E, Jørgensen, N, Berthelsen, JG, Keiding, N, Christensen, K, Petersen, JH, Knudsen, LB and Skakkebæk, NE. 2002. Poor semen quality may contribute to recent decline in fertility rates. Human Reproduction 17(6): 1437-1440.

Paulus WE, Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, Sterzik K. 2002. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy.

Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, Zabludovsky N, Bartoov B. 1997. Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from sub-fertility related to low sperm quality.

Gurfinkel E, Cedenho AP, Yamamura Y, Srougi M. 2003. Effects of acupuncture and moxa treatment in patients with semen abnormalities.

Pei J, Strehler E, Noss U, Abt M, Piomboni P, Baccetti B, Sterzik K. 2005. Quantitative evaluation of spermatozoa ultrastructure after acupuncture treatment for idiopathic male infertility.

Dong C, Chen SR, Jiang J, Xiao YH, Cai MX, Zhang YJ, Xu H, Deng LH, Li S. 2006.

Clinical observation and study of mechanisms of needle-picking therapy for primary infertility of abnormal sperm.

Fujisawa M, Kanzaki M, Okada H, Arakawas S & Kamidono S. 1996. Metenkephalin in seminal plasma of infertile men.  International Journal of Urology 3(4): 297-300

Bensoussan A. 1990. The Vital Meridian. Churchill Livingstone: 112

Guzick DS, Overstreet JW, Factor-Litvak P. 2001. Sperm morphology, motility and concentration in fertile & infertile men. New England Journal of Medicine 345(19): 1388-1393.

Ford W, North K, Taylor H, Farrow A, Hull M, Golding J. 2000. Increasing paternal age is associated with delayed conception in large population of fertile couples: evidence for declining fecundity in older men. Human Reproduction 15(8): 1703-1708.

Marijuana and your fertility: are my eggs/sperm “stoned” too?

by Charmaine Dennis FGHG Director and Naturopath

The most commonly used illicit drug amongst people of reproductive age, this one is worth discussing as it is linked to decreased fertility in both men and women, dramatically affecting the quality of sperm and impacting negatively on the health of developing babies during pregnancy.

In men, marijuana disrupts the complex THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) weakens sexual drive and reduces sperm production by interfering with the production of testosterone. Sperm party hard too – research has shown that they become hyperactive, swimming too hard too early and burning out before they reach the egg.1 Yes every cell in your body becomes “stoned” and if sperm don’t have the energy left by the time they reach the egg, they don’t have a chance of breaking through the outer casing of the egg for fertilisation to occur.

Women who smoke marijuana also secrete small amounts of THC in vaginal fluid and reproductive organs, and when the sperm come into contact with it, they go into party mode, becoming hyperactive and burn out too quickly. Marijuana can also harm a developing baby, especially in the first weeks when you may not even know you are pregnant.

Consequences of smoking marijuana on fertility

In Men: 1,2

  • reduces libido and sexual function
  • decreases fertility
  • reduces the number of sperm produced
  • reduces capacity of sperm to fertilise the egg

In Women:3

  • reduces chances of conception
  • reduces the number of eggs retrieved in IVF4
  • reduces chances of healthy pregnancy, associated with implantation failure, spontaneous miscarriage, foetal growth restriction, low birth weight babies and premature birth5

Of course some men who smoke marijuana do get women pregnant, but every man has a different fertile potential and it changes throughout his life. If your fertility is already compromised, smoking marijuana will make you infertile. Women who smoke can also conceive, but as for men, if your fertility is already compromised by any factor, or your man’s fertility is poor, smoking marijuana will make it very difficult to conceive, reducing your chance of having a healthy baby.

If you are trying to conceive we recommend that you don’t use marijuana in any form
Aside from the above risks, marijuana may also be contaminated with problematic heavy metals (such as lead to increase its weight and sale value per gram) or more addictive illicit drugs, such as cocaine. It’s just not worth it.

Research is tricky to conduct on the singular impacts of marijuana on fertility specifically, as people who do smoke or consume it tend to higher rates of cigarette smoking, alcohol, caffeine and other illicit drug use before and during pregnancy, confounding results of any research as they are known to cause issues for fertility and pregnancy.  Of course marijuana is often smoked in combination with tobacco and this has it’s own inherent fertility disasters too.

What about other drugs?
Party drugs, street drugs, illicit drugs such as cocaine, speed, ecstasy, heroin and ice all have dramatic affects on fertility and of course your overall health. Men may suffer reduced libido, abnormally shaped sperm and low sperm count and women often suffer abnormal ovulation and irregular menstrual cycles as well as a reduction in ovarian reserve.1 Long-term use can lead to permanent problems for your fertility and your baby, but in many cases, any damage caused may start to reverse as soon as you quit your habit.

Results from research can be confusing, however, the growing body of evidence that suggests that to produce optimal outcomes for healthy pregnancy and baby, women and men should be encouraged to avoid all forms of substance use behaviour while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.

My future baby
With the regular use of any addictive substance during pregnancy, your baby must suffer the withdrawal symptoms after birth that you are avoiding yourself. After getting your baby used to regular doses of these substances, even though some will cross to the breast milk, compared to being more directly attached to your blood supply there is a dramatic reduction in exposure. This means your baby suffers severe headaches, pains, shakiness, emotional turmoil – all of this while getting to know the feeling of life on the outside – what a difficult start to life (for all of you!). There is no better reason to give up now! Giving up now is not more stressful than the potential poor health outcomes you are creating for yourself and your baby.

But what if I am addicted? How can I give up?
Stay motivated. Get support. Join a group. Be kind to yourself but stay on track. Remind yourself why you are doing it. Reward yourself regularly. Save up the money you don’t spend on these things and treat yourself to a massage – or even a holiday! Do the maths – most people don’t realise how much these habits are costing them!  Literally put the money aside and use it to reward yourselves every week or month that you stay on track.

Support for detoxification with naturopathic work can help by improving elimination and reducing suffering experienced during withdrawal and reduce cravings. Acupuncture and hypnotherapy have both been shown to significantly reduce cravings.

With our patients we often find that emotional reasons underlie substance use. We try to duck and weave away from our feelings and fears by masking them or pushing them down with a cigarette/a drink/a shopping spree/a food binge … (or insert your special avoidance tactic here).

Counselling of some kind can be very useful to identify the ways in which we hide, what in fact we are hiding from and how we can show up to and resolve these issues without the need to dampen it down. You may have tried this in the past and didn’t find it worked for you – don’t give up! Try someone else, something else to give you the support you need to make the change.

You know the ways these things are harmful for you, your fertility and your baby. Now is the time to work on this and it will actually make the inevitable stresses of early parenting easier too. Let us know if you need a referral to a good practitioner.

Research cited:

  1. Fronczak CM, Kim ED, Barqawi AB. The insults of illicit drug use on male fertility. J Androl. 2012;33(4):515-528. doi:10.2164/jandrol.110.011874
  2. du Plessis SS, Agarwal A, Syriac A. Marijuana, phytocannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system, and male fertility. J Assist Reprod Genet. 2015;32(11):1575-1588. doi:10.1007/s10815-015-0553-8
  3. Brents LK. Marijuana, the Endocannabinoid System and the Female Reproductive System. Yale J Biol Med. 2016;89(2):175-191. Accessed April 18, 2018.
  4. Klonoff-Cohen HS, Natarajan L, Victoria Chen R. A prospective study of the effects of female and male marijuana use on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) outcomes. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;194(2):369-376. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2005.08.020
  5. Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Northstone K. Maternal use of cannabis and pregnancy outcome. BJOG An Int J Obstet Gynaecol. 2002;109(1):21-27. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2002.01020.x

Charmaine Dennis NaturopathCharmaine Dennis is a naturopath, fertility and health expert, mentor, writer, mother, and businesswoman. She is the founding director of Fertile Ground Health Group, co-creator of the Be Fertile relaxation CD series and co-author of The Breakfast Project, among other health inspired projects. Her greatest gift and inspiration is making health, wellbeing, and passionate living accessible, inspiring and achievable for everyone. Charmaine’s naturopathic career has followed a special interest in working with couples with infertility requiring IVF support since 1999.  She has assisted many in realising their dreams to conceive healthy, beautiful babies in collaboration with GPs and fertility specialists, acupuncturists and other health modalities.


Although antibiotic use in pregnancy may increase the baby’s risk of infection, giving specific probiotics can work in the baby’s favour


by Gina Fox, FGHG Naturopath

News coverage recently from Australian researchers suggested that if you take antibiotics while pregnant there is a 20 per cent increased risk that the baby or child will have a serious infection that they need to be hospitalised for. This was especially the case when the antibiotics were taken closer to delivery date and the findings suggested that the antibiotics upset the mother’s gut bacteria, the microbiome. A side-effect of taking antibiotics is to upset the gut flora by killing off some of the beneficial gut bacteria and allowing other bacteria to flourish. This altered microbiome is then passed on to the baby during a vaginal birth. The effects were seen in the study to affect newborns and continue throughout their childhood.

It doesn’t necessarily mean if you are pregnant that you should avoid antibiotics, and if they are necessary then the best health improvement you could give yourself and your baby would be probiotics after any course of antibiotics. This may mitigate the issue with the your own gut flora and subsequently your baby’s gut flora. This is certainly good news.

As an add on to the story it’s now known through research on specific strains of probiotic which are the best ones to take after a course of antibiotics. These are the one’s known to go through the placenta and also post birth through the breastmilk.  Increasing the bifido strains in the infant is thought to be the most protective of illness and it’s known that among other strains the L rhamnosus GG is one of the main ones that when given to the mother has bioavailability for the baby and increases the baby’s beneficial gut flora.  It can also be supportive to give probiotics directly to the baby post birth. If you are interested to hear more ask your naturopath.

To read more on this story


Gina-Fox3Gina Fox is a naturopath with over 15 years’ experience. She trained under Francesca Naish (author of Better Babies) and has a Masters in Reproductive Medicine. As well as being an experienced clinician she is a speaker, naturopathic lecturer and student clinic supervisor.

Gina loves to help couples achieve full-term pregnancies and give birth to beautiful healthy babies. Gina excels at addressing underlying stressors while couples achieve their optimal fertility. Her own meditation practice led her to become a meditation instructor and co-develop the Be Fertile series of guided relaxation CDs for women around conception, IVF and pregnancy support.