Working together to combat infertility

Susan Martin (left)

I have a keen interest in acupuncture and IVF and I love to watch the evidence base for the benefits of acupuncture with fertility evolving. My dissertation at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (CICM) in Reading was an investigation into the use of acupuncture before and after embryo transfer – a comparison between the Paulus protocol and individualised treatments.

Throughout my time in practice, I have discovered that female partners regularly come in for acupuncture, whilst their partners will rarely attend treatments; there is still a feeling that the onus is on the woman. The feedback I receive from patients is that the male is often told by professionals that even if the sperm morphology results are under four per cent, then it is seen as ok, as the clinic can offer intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). In my opinion, this discourages men from making health and lifestyle changes that can impact the health and development of an embryo, baby and child. If just 4 per cent is considered ‘normal’, what about the other 96 per cent?

On 10 September this year I attended the Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine (BCRM) Fertility Fair – I was invited to share a stall with a friend and colleague who is a fertility massage therapist.

On looking around the fair, I was pleased to see that one of the stands offered DNA fragmentation testing – an additional diagnostic test recommended for anyone trying to conceive who has had repeated implantation failure and/or miscarriages. This procedure checks the DNA, the building blocks to create a baby, which are impacted by smoking, drinking alcohol, stress, age, drugs, diet and heat. Results show the level of damage that for many can simply be improved by incorporating lifestyle and dietary adjustments.

My college dissertation also explored the leeway of time either side of the embryo transfer. Many patients have read about the Paulus protocol and can get very worried if they do not receive treatment within a certain timescale. There are so many time constraints and stresses around IVF that I personally believe driving across a city or town at rush hour will simply add more pressure. How amazing would it be to have an in-house acupuncturist who can work with patients for at least three months to prepare both parents and offer treatment before and after embryo transfer?

Patients deserve the whole treatment package: nutrition, vitamins, lifestyle advice, meditation and most importantly support through a very emotive and difficult time. We are social animals and collaboration between health professionals is key for an integrated approach in fertility clinics when treating infertility issues.

We live in an era where more than ever, individuals and businesses need to be competitive to survive. Competition can obscure what really matters. I believe that all fertility clinics need to collaborate, and that by emphasising the connection between like-minded professionals with a shared purpose, we can unlock a new source of motivation and a more powerful kind of teamwork. My vision is for every fertility clinic to have its own acupuncturist, nutritionist, massage therapist, in person counsellor and online/in person support group.

Patients receive little support in this area – but if and when we collaborate and work together, we can promote better patient outcomes and create the most inspiring team of all.

Susan Martin
BAcC Member: Bristol
November 2022