Northern Beaches Mums Group
Northern Beaches Mums Group

Understanding secondary infertility and the role of an acupuncturist

Secondary infertility. The little, neat and tidy definition is “the inability to conceive after 12 months of trying, with a history of at least one past successful pregnancy”. The reality of course is the confusing, heartbreaking frustration of not being able to create or complete the family you’re dreaming of.

My two miscarriages followed the birth of my son. I acknowledge that this doesn’t put me in the category of secondary infertility but there is a commonality; the ‘at least’s’ cut, and I felt a heavy insinuation I wasn’t being grateful enough for what I had. From my experience working with women dealing with secondary infertility, there is often a sense of shame and guilt about the pain and stress of wanting another or more children.

We rarely speak about secondary infertility and it’s not a particularly well researched area. The truth is, secondary infertility is only slightly less common than primary infertility but shares many of the same causes, and just like primary infertility, male factor can absolutely play a role [1,2].  

Early steps

A lot can happen to a woman and/or a man in the time between having a baby and thinking about conceiving another. If you’ve been trying to conceive another child for a several cycles without success, here are the first steps to take:

Her:  

1. Consider your cycle: Is your cycle regular? Have you confirmed ovulation and are you confident you are having sex at the right time?  
2. How is your preconception care? First time round there is often more control around, or energy to put into things like sleep, timing of meals, caffeine intake, routine, stress, exposure to plastics or other endocrine disruptors. Is there anything jumping out that you know has really slipped and can you take steps to rectify it?
3. Consider your health status: have you added or dropped medications? Are you managing a new health condition, or an existing one differently? Have you recently made large lifestyle adjustments, like starting to eat a vegetarian diet?
4. Know what to do and striving for perfection? We have an ‘80% is 100%’ guideline. Nope, you don’t have to do everything right to become pregnant, it’s what you do most of the time that can impact your fertility.  
5. A few years between babies: If it’s been a few years between your pregnancies, there may be some impact on your egg health. There are absolutely steps you can take to slow down the ageing process and protect your eggs.  

Him: 

1. Consider your preconception care: An embryo is 50% male and a 50% female contribution. Preconception care is important for men too.  
2. Is your lifestyle hitting an 80% is 100% guideline? Generally speaking there is a little leeway. Tidy up, do all the right things, most of the time. 
3. How’s your nutrition? If you’re TTC, there are still nutritional needs you should consider along with a well-balanced diet to ensure your body has the right building blocks for sperm health. If your eating like a teenager, consider setting some simple goals – fruit and vegetables at every meal. Limit processed food. Set eating routines. 4. Evaluate any big changes: Have you started new hobbies, or new habits? Could that be playing a role in your sperm health? 
5. Taking something out: Smoking and drinking both have negative impacts on sperm health. These two habits should be immediately addressed if conception is taking longer than expected.  
6. Has it been a while? Contrary to older beliefs, men’s age plays a role in fertility too [3]. If you are late 30’s it’s time to act, and if you’re in protect sperm from the aging process.  

Next steps for a couple

Individualised treatment. This is where working with a practitioner or a team of health carers really plays in your favour. We live in a time of unparalleled access to information – however not all sources are equal and not everything applies to everyone. Tailored treatment can ensure the right investigations are carried out, the right steps are taken to rectify any issues that are identified and the right combination of fertility support is created for you.  

Putting an acupuncturist in your team

Of course I would say that, I’m an acupuncturist after all… however research on acupuncture, herbal medicine and fertility is very optimistic – for example:   
1. Patients presenting with unexplained infertility had a conception rate of 60.9% when treated with acupuncture and herbal medicine [4]
2. Acupuncture has been shown to improve the structure of the endometrial lining – an important part of successful implantation [5]
3. Animal studies show immune markers, important for implantation are improved after acupuncture treatments [6]
4. Women who undergo acupuncture have a statistically significant increase in their fertility awareness [7]
5. Time to conceive has been found to drop drastically, (up to half) in women undergoing an acupuncture protocol [7]


Jenna McDonald holds a Master of Reproductive Medicine and a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in both acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. This Manly local is a surfing lover, Mumma of 2 and creator + practitioner of The Fertility Suite in Manly. Like so many, Jenna’s fertility experience was not straight forward, and it opened her eyes to the fear, anxiety and stress that can be associated with the desire for a successful pregnancy. She is committed to working together with you to reach your fertility potential. Jenna and her team  work with women and men to help make conception easier through acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Want more information?

The Fertility Suite website is a great place to start. You’ll find information on understanding and identifying ovulation, nutritional support, understanding how lifestyle factors impact fertility, all fully referenced from peer review journals – it’s information you can trust. And it’s not just for women, on our Men’s Suite menu we have information on lifestyle habits, myths around male fertility and a stack of information on men-specific preconception care.

Ready to work with one of our team? Come see us at The Fertility Suite. You can book below, or contact the lovely Chloe on chloe@thefertilitysuite.com.au.

LINK to book – https://www.thefertilitysuite.com.au/book

References:

1. Deshpande PS, Gupta AS. Causes and Prevalence of Factors Causing Infertility in a Public Health Facility. J Hum Reprod Sci. 2019;12(4):287-293. doi:10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_140_18
2. Benksim A, Elkhoudri N, Addi RA, Baali A, Cherkaoui M. Difference between Primary and Secondary Infertility in Morocco: Frequencies and Associated Factors. Int J Fertil Steril. 2018;12(2):142-146. doi:10.22074/ijfs.2018.5188
3. du Fossé NA, van der Hoorn MP, van Lith JMM, le Cessie S, Lashley EELO. Advanced paternal age is associated with an increased risk of spontaneous miscarriage: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2020;26(5):650-669. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmaa010
4. Park JJ, Kang M, Shin S, Choi E, Kwon S, Wee H, Nam B, Kaptchuk TJ (2010). “Unexplained infertility treated with acupuncture and herbal medicine in Korea”. J Altern Complement Med. 16(2):193-8. 
5. Shuai Z, Lian F, Li P, Yang W (2015). “Effect of Transcutaneous Electrical Acupuncture Point Stimulation on Endometrial Receptivity in Women Undergoing Frozen-Thawed Embryo Transfer: A Single-Blind Prospective Randomised Controlled Trial”. Acupuncture in Medicine, 33(1), 9–15. https://doi.org/10.1136/acupmed-2014-010572
6. Gui J, Xiong F, Yang W, Li J, Huang G (2012). “Effects of acupuncture on LIF and IL-12 in rats of implantation failure”. Am J Reprod Immunol 67: 383–390 
7. Cochrane S, Smith CA, Possamai-Inesedy A, Bensoussan A. (2018). “Prior to Conception: The Role of an Acupuncture Protocol in Improving Women’s Reproductive Functioning Assessed by a Pilot Pragmatic Randomised Controlled Tria”l [published correction appears in Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018 May 2;2018:2343604]. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Doi: 2016;2016:3587569. doi:10.1155/2016/3587569 

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