The other side of the ART equation

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As of a 2009 CDC survey, Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) births represented 1.4%of total US births, or 60,190 infants. It is now estimated that over 5 million births worldwide have been the result of medical reproductive intervention, a long way to come after the birth of the very first “test tube baby” in 1978. However, these advances have not come without their own concerns. In the same 2009 survey, it was also stated that 33.4% of ART births were born preterm, compared to a 12.2% rate found in natural births, and 47% were multiple births, compared to a general rate of 3%.

In two recent reviews published in Fertility and Sterility Journal (a publication of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine), the relationships between the use of ART and certain perinatal risks were examined. The observed increased rates of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and the prevalence and severity of preeclampsia (link) were discussed, and the authors referenced the effects of ovarian stimulation, embryo culture in vitro, and something called an “underlying infertility factor” as possible mechanisms. Interestingly, it was hinted that this underlying infertility may be the factor with the greatest influence. Although somewhat vague in description, this factor could be summed up as what the contributions of sub-fertile, and therefore perhaps sub-healthy parents could be lacking.

What should hopeful ART parents-to-be glean from these findings? Probably what a lot of them already know, and the reason why they are increasingly turning to holistic therapies to help them maximize their health potentials in preparation for parenthood. For while it may seem that you do not have much control over the many intricate workings of an IVF or IUI procedure, you do have some control over this very thing which may be the greatest factor – your health. Indeed, the very last line in one of these articles was: “Reproduction effects health, health effects reproduction”

The focus of ART is egg production and fertilization, but the preparation and readiness of the woman’s body, which includes all facets of her overall health and well-being, are largely left out of the equation. It is not surprising that we should start to see this side of the equation become more apparent as a possible causative factor in the risks associated with ART. Building a human is no small job, and unaddressed disharmonies in the mind and body should not be underestimated for being able to distract from the task. The analogy of attempting to sow seeds in poor soil is easy to understand. One cannot expect the best yield if there are not the proper conditions to nourish and support the seed.

It has been pointed out that one of the drawbacks to using TCM in fertility is the time it takes, but this is really its strength. By taking the time to acknowledge, address, and nurture the aspects of your health that may be holding you back, you provide for the much more efficient possibility of creating a stable and sustainable environment for success. Perhaps we can influence these risks and factors more than we know. Studies such as these take a long time to show results, but with a proactive approach, hopefully we will enjoy a positive shift in the research findings of the future.

Written by; Rebecca Stephens, B.Sc., R.Ac., R.TCM.P

Barnhart, K.T. 2012. Assisted reproductive technologies and perinatal morbidity: interrogating the
association. Fertility and Sterility 99(2): 299-302.

Kondapalli, L.A., and Perales-Puchalt, A. 2012. Low birth weight: is it related to assisted reproductive
technology or underlying infertility. Fertility and Sterility 99(2): 303-10.