TODAY style editor Bobbie Thomas has opened the door on her IVF attempts as she tries to have a child; now she's sharing her experience with alternative medicine to help her in her quest to have a baby.
When the needles and cups of modern medicine don’t go far enough, some patients seek help from the ancient kind.
Earlier this year, Thomas revealed that she has been trying to become pregnant with the help of in vitro fertilization. She decided to share the many steps and frustrations of the process with TODAY viewers along the way.
Her treatment has so far produced one frozen embryo, with doctors hoping for more. So Thomas is now on her third round of IVF — a process in which doctors remove a woman’s eggs, fertilize them with sperm in a lab and place the resulting embryos in her womb — with additional eggs to be retrieved in about a week.
The routine is familiar by now for Thomas and her husband Michael, who gives her hormone shots twice a day in preparation for the procedure.
But this time, at the recommendation of her doctor, Thomas is incorporating Eastern medicine to her routine, including cupping and acupuncture, in the hopes that it will improve her odds of becoming pregnant.
“Just stop thinking, just relax,” Thomas told TODAY’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford about the biggest benefits the therapies offer. “The first round, I did not do acupuncture and cupping, and the second round I did, and I did see an improvement.”
Dr. Sheeva Talebian, an infertility specialist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York and an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said the therapies do produce results.
“I often find that many of my patients do it and they report that it really dramatically helps with the stress and anxiety of the IVF process. It also helps with some of the side effects of the medications,” Talebian said.
“Let me tell you about the side effects,” Thomas added, while getting acupuncture live on the show from Guoping Zheng, founder and director of The Center For Natural Fertility and Women's Health.
“I’m really in the thick of it where I’m doing shots in the morning and at night. I’m doing doctor’s appointments every other morning... you’re just swollen all the time and when I come to see her, I have to say she keeps telling me it’s about blood flow and de-stressing and it does help.”
Research on the subject has produced mixed results.
A 2002 study found 42 percent of women who had acupuncture before and after an embryo transfer became pregnant, while only 26 percent of women who skipped the supplemental therapy were able to conceive.
But a review published last year showed much less promise. Researchers analyzed 16 separate studies involving more than 4,000 women from around the world and found “no statistically significant improvement” in pregnancy rates between IVF patients who received acupuncture and those who did not, according to the government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Thomas regularly has acupuncture needles placed on her forehead and hands, which Zheng told her are her stress points.
“Sometimes, I’m a baby and I’ll jump because you just see a needle coming at you, which is not my favorite thing.”
"You just want to have a baby, sweetie," Kathie Lee Gifford said as Zheng tapped an acupuncture needle into Thomas' forehead.
Zheng also demonstrated cupping, or applying a heated cup to the skin to create a slight suction, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
“I want women at home to not be afraid of this because it does help de-stress,” Thomas said. “It feels so good.”
It's like a reverse massage because it lifts the muscles up, instead of pushing them down, she added. The therapy does leave circle-shaped red marks on a patient’s back.
For Thomas, it's just another step to the ultimate goal: a healthy baby to complete her IVF journey.