Infertility is commonly defined as the inability to produce offspring after two years of consistent trying. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are many recognized reasons and risk factors that are potential causes.
Of course, hormonal imbalances play a role in this and will correlate with many of the diagnoses in TCM. Some of the other possible reasons for infertility include constitutional deficiencies, overwork, excessive physical work, invasion of cold and an irregular diet. All of these affect qi, blood, yin and yang — all of which must be fairly balanced in order to conceive.
Now, I know what you are thinking: some of this seems too simple. I think there is a lot of beauty in the simplicity of TCM. Hopefully, in working to balance your meridians, you will start to feel the beauty in it as well.
First, let’s start with talking about constitutional deficiencies.
Everyone is born with a certain amount of essence, correlating to your kidneys, that you have no control over. Your essence is a great indicator of how long you will be around, how depleted you are and how your body is holding up. If you feel tired frequently, had an illness really young or a tough birth or are having trouble conceiving, you may have an essence deficiency.
One of the best ways to nourish your kidneys is by drinking bone broth. It is incredibly healing and grounding. You can also increase your root vegetable intake by eating sweet potatoes and beets, incorporating more dark leafy greens to nourish your system and ensuring you eat as many warm meals as you can.
There are also many herbal formulas and tonics you can take to support your system no matter what your deficiency is stemming from. Your local acupuncturist will know how to advise you further. You do not want to deplete your essence or kidney functions early by overworking. Working too many hours without adequate rest is a definite way to deplete kidney yin and yang, deplete qi and stagnate blood.
When blood stagnates, there is pain. If you menstruate and get stabbing cramps when on your cycle, that is blood stagnation. Stress stagnates blood, too, and as we know, we live in a culture obsessed with stress and little rest. In order to improve blood flow and relieve stress, you need to make sure you are getting adequate stress relief.
Cupping, acupuncture, bodywork and working out all move qi and blood very strongly. Implementing quiet time or meditation is invaluable for stress relief. Finding time each day for your body to be in stillness is so important and will help to rewire your brain to not act out stress responses. In this case, your acupuncturist can also talk to you about adding some adaptogens like mushrooms or ashwagandha to help your body with its stress.
Some people have a blood deficiency from over-working that manifests as spots in the vision, pale face, tiredness and irregular cycles. In this case, we need to nourish blood so that there is enough to support both mother and child. Here you need to make sure you are not over-working or working out too much and check in with your stress level. Eating blood-nourishing foods like high-quality red meat, beets, cherries, eggs, legumes and dark leafy vegetables are important to consume while building blood.
Many people in the United States have an invasion of cold in their wombs. This is because we are not taught to have a relationship with our wombs. We wear crop tops on our cycles, eat raw and cold food, do not rest enough and get into cold water on our cycles. Making small changes like covering the back and front of your uterus leading up to and during your cycle as well as switching to cooked, warm foods, resting and staying out of cold water when on your cycle can make a really big difference with your cycle and help with fertility.
Your acupuncturist can also help you with moxibustion, an herb you burn for its penetrating heat, and vaginal steaming if they are right for you. All warming activities including the use of a heating pad are welcome here! Herbal medicine will also be very important in warming the womb.
Lastly, many people have a dampness or phlegm component to their infertility. This could show up in the form of uterine cysts, endometriosis or less severe symptoms like bloating, foggy mind, sluggishness and a feeling of heaviness. All of these symptoms can be helped with diet. You will want to stay away from damp and phlegm-producing foods including dairy, processed sugar, gluten, artificial ingredients, fried foods, alcohol and soy. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your acupuncturist will prescribe you herbal medicine for any of the above conditions.
The most important takeaway in your fertility journey is going to be to relax. The way you treat yourself physically and emotionally is how you are treating your baby. We could all use a little more time to relax, meditate, cook a nice warm meal and connect with each other. That will be more important than ever during this time, and remember, if you do have painful menstruation or an irregular cycle, you can start with diet and lifestyle changes, and your acupuncturist can get you on a personalized herbal protocol targeting your specific needs.
About the Author
Isabel Meijering is an acupuncturist in Austin, Texas and is the owner of “Admiring You Wellness.” She has a B.S. in biomedical sciences with a minor in psychology and has a deep love for both eastern and western medicine, which started with her introduction to yoga and grew from there. She also has her master’s in acupuncture with a specialization in Chinese herbal medicine as well as cupping therapy and her doctorate in acupuncture and Chinese medicine.