“Fertile Awakenings” program one of a handful nationwide interlinking traditional western and alternative fertility care
SAN RAMON, CALIFORNIA – This month the Reproductive Science Center of the Bay Area, one of nation’s oldest IVF practices, launches “Fertile Awakenings,” one of the first programs to provide coordinated care by a team of traditional western fertility specialists and complementary and alternative medical practitioners.
Though the medical community is divided about complementary and alternative medical approaches to infertility, many patients have been using them successfully. However, it is rare for their care to be coordinated between all medical providers.
The program includes a panel of RSC physicians and the Fertile Awakenings team of alternative practitioners, who will review infertility treatment for patients on a case-by-case basis. When appropriate, they will recommend complementary treatment to be offered at RSC clinics as well as other locations, such as acupuncture at RSC’s Orinda clinic, mindfulness training and stress reduction courses at RSC’s San Ramon location, confidential phone coaching, and uterine massage and nutritional counseling at Harmony Acupuncture.
“It is becoming more common for infertility practices to offer a multidisciplinary approach, integrating western and eastern medicine, along with a Mind/Body program. There is some evidence that this combined approach may improve success for some couples,” said Louis Weckstein, M.D., IVF and Medical Director of RSC. “A collaborative program that addresses the stress as well as the medical aspects of infertility care more raises the bar for fertility care,” said Weckstein.
“Helping to manage the brutal stress and emotional rollercoaster of infertility can go a long way in supporting medical treatment for infertility,” he added.
More patients like Lidia Gutierrez, a 39-year-old San Ramon engineering consultant who is completely healthy but having difficulty getting pregnant, are using acupuncture while undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). “When Dr. Weckstein showed me the research on superior pregnancy rates for patients who used both methods, my husband and I agreed it was the best way to proceed,” she said. Gutierrez began acupuncture treatments in June in preparation for her first IVF cycle in August. Some studies show acupuncture increases the success of embryo implantation as well as improves relaxation and reduces stress.
Most fertility experts agree that reducing stress is key for many of their patients. Stress signals the pituitary gland that the body is in trouble, which can slow the release of the luteinizing hormone, which in turn triggers ovulation. Even if ovulation occurs, a shortage of the luteinizing hormone could mean a lower level of progesterone, a hormone necessary to nourish and sustain an embryo’s implantation.
Infertility patients who have endured many months or years of frustration may have low emotional reserves and benefit from the emotional support of a professional coach. Research showed that couples who participated in group counseling sessions were more likely to get pregnant than couples who did not. The Fertile Awakenings coaching program also helps patients navigate the stress of decision-making regarding complex treatment options, such as determining which assisted reproductive techniques are appropriate, when to consider use of a donated egg or sperm, a gestational carrier, or cease treatment and consider other choices.
Separate German and Chinese studies of 160 women combined who used assisted reproductive techniques, as reported in the April 2002 issue of Fertility and Sterility, found that 42.5 percent who included acupuncture with their treatment achieved pregnancy compared to 26.3 percent who did not use acupuncture. Other studies have shown that sperm quality benefits from acupuncture treatment as well.