Egg Retrieval Explained
There’s a common idea in our culture that when you’re trying to get pregnant, the egg that you release each month only takes about 2 weeks to develop. That’s not true! The egg you release this month started developing at least 3 cycles ago.
That’s why, in our fertility acupuncture practice, we suggest starting acupuncture three months before IVF, IUI, or when you’re trying to get pregnant naturally. At any given time, we have the most influence to help the eggs you will release three months from now.
So: To prepare for an IVF egg retrieval, we recommend getting weekly acupuncture as soon as you can, preferably 3 months or more ahead of when you start your IVF cycle. Weekly treatments are best until you begin your IVF medications. At that point, we may increase your acupuncture sessions to twice weekly.
Acupuncture can improve blood circulation to the pelvic area so the medications can more easily reach the reproductive organs, which can help support egg quality. Acupuncture is also very good at calming the nervous system, and can be tremendously helpful in reducing the side effects of IVF medications. IVF can be stressful; we’re here to help you get through it!
There are two phases to an egg retrieval that many IVF patients go through; suppression and stimulation. During the suppression phase, the patient’s natural hormones are blocked with the birth control pill and other hormone “blockers”. A pelvic ultrasound is performed to be sure that the ovaries are at ‘rest’ (also called a “suppression check”).
The suppression medications put the ovaries in ‘suspended animation’ so that when the stimulation phase comes, a lot of follicles will start developing at the same time. The suppression phase is when we use acupuncture, supplements, and other modalities to help the body build the resources it will need for the stimulation phase.
Your acupuncturist will pay attention to when the suppression is causing ‘stagnation’ or ‘congestion’ in the body, which can cause unpleasant side effects like headaches and mood swings, and will work to relieve it.
The stimulation phase usually starts during the first couple of days of your period. Some people do not get a period while on the suppression medications – that’s ok, the fertility doctors are familiar with this and know what to do!
Ovarian stimulants are taken for about 10-14 days, with regular ultrasounds to ensure that that multiple follicles are growing at about the same pace, and no individual follicle is becoming dominant. Hormone levels will also be checked to ensure that the ovaries aren’t getting overstimulated.
Unfortunately, during the stimulation phase, more side effects can show up. Many people have difficulty sleeping, headaches, mood swings, and abdominal bloating and pain. Regular acupuncture can really help with these side effects. That’s one reason why we usually recommend coming twice weekly during this period, in addition to helping your body make the best eggs possible!
After the egg retrieval, many people continue to feel side effects for about a week. For people who develop a lot of fluid build-up in the low abdomen causing pelvic pain and digestive symptoms, we recommend returning for acupuncture 2-3 days after the retrieval and twice a week for a couple of weeks following that.
We then recommend you continue your acupuncture treatments to support your body for what often comes next: the embryo transfer.
We hope this helps you understand why we recommend regular acupuncture before, during, and after an IVF egg retrieval cycle. If you are planning to do IVF, seeing a fertility acupuncturist during your IVF cycle can really help support your success and reduce stress and side effects. Contact us to learn more about how acupuncture can help with you with your egg retrieval cycle.