IT was after her fourth attempt at having a baby through IVF ended in a miscarriage that Sue Cross decided to try acupuncture.

Aged 39, she had been struggling to have a child for years and had got tragically close – her second IVF pregnancy ended when her son was stillborn at six months.

The miscarriage happened after three months and was, she says, horrific. She was ‘all over the place emotionally and physically’ and felt that there was something very wrong even six months after the miscarriage.

It was then that she decided to try acupuncture to help her in her quest to have a child.

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to suggest that acupuncture can aid pregnancy, with clinical research showing that it does improve the chances of a successful pregnancy following IVF.

Sue, of Sarisbury Green, says that she didn’t expect acupuncture to offer a miracle solution but thought she might as well try.

“My periods were completely erratic,” she says.

“I knew there was something not right and my body couldn’t get back into its regular cycle. I felt really exhausted.

“I’d had a lot of pain in my back and after my first session I woke up the next day feeling like a new woman.”

Sue continued to visit her acupuncturist, Qing Zhang at the Acu-Herbs Chinese Medicine Centre in Southampton, on a weekly basis and felt her body ‘get back into sync’.

When she was ready for her next IVF treatment, some months later, she had IVF at the time the embryo was implanted in her womb, and says that the experience was far less stressful than on previous occasions.

She continued seeing Qing and it was she who told her, during an acupuncture session, that she was pregnant.

Sue and her partner are now preparing to celebrate their little girl Isabella’s first birthday.

Sue says: “I definitely think acupuncture helped me get pregnant and helped me not have a miscarriage because I was so relaxed.”

Qing Ahang, who has been an acupuncturist for 27 years, says that she and her husband John – who she runs her practice with – are seeing more and more women with fertility problems.

“I think it’s because of their busy lives – there’s lots of work and pressure and they can’t have a baby for stress-related reasons. The second reason is people leave it quite late now,” she says.

They also think more women are coming through their doors because they have read research which suggests that acupuncture can improve IVF success rates.

John says: “We can divide fertility problems into two areas – one is a deficiency or a weakness and the other is a blockage.

“A weakness could be something like heavy periods when the blood supply in the body isn’t good or a weakness in the kidneys which affects the hormones. A blockage could be something like endometriosis.”

He claims that the body is divided into 14 meridians which connect different organs – the acupuncturist places the needle at a point along one of these depending on the problem.

Qing and John say that how quickly women respond to treatment will depend on their individual problems. However they add that stress relief can be felt after just one treatment and women normally notice an improvement in their periods after one menstrual cycle.

Qing believes that any woman who wants to have a child can benefit from acupuncture: “it gives you a good start to prepare your body.”

And Sue agrees: “I’d say just try it. It worked for me. I really want women to know because I know how I felt about not being able to have a baby.”

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PROFESSOR George Lewith, professor of health research at the University of Southampton.

“The evidence from IFV work is that acupuncture around the time of implantation – when they put the fertilised egg back in – does actually help the rate of conception. We don’t understand exactly why – there are lots of theories but it does help.

“Having acupuncture around the time of IVF will improve your chances of having a pregnancy by between 10 and 12 per cent.

It’s a small effect but it’s quite significant. It’s not a big cost to have a couple of acupuncture treatments around implantation when IVF costs about £5,000 or £6,000 a cycle.

“Acupuncture may well help with pelvic pain such as endometrioses but we don’t have cast iron evidence – I’m actually doing a small study about that. As far as pain is concerned the anecdotal evidence is quite good but clinical trials need to be done.

“The evidence for acupuncture helping in miscarriage is flimsy because the studies haven’t been done. It’s quite easy to evaluate if there’s a pregnancy at the end of an IVF cycle because you’re monitoring the woman very carefully but lots of women will have a miscarriage and you’d have to give thousands acupuncture and compare them with a group who didn’t have acupuncture to see if the rates of miscarriage were different and that work’s never been done.

“What is clear about acupuncture is that it’s safe and it certainly does something to the female gynaecology which generally appears to be positive.

“There’s quite a good study on PMS which suggests acupuncture does work.It’s quite difficult to measure things like irregular periods though there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that acupuncture helps but there isn’t a solid clinical trial to say that it does or doesn’t.

“I would say that acupuncture is a very safe procedure and with IVF you need two or three treatments around the time of implantation. If you want something for irregular periods or hot flushes it’s a series of six to eight treatments and you begin to get some response after the first five or six. If you feel that you’re not getting a response in that sort of time it’s probably not worth going on. You might spend a little bit of money but you’re not going to run a big risk and it does not interact with 99 per cent of medications.”