Trying to Conceive: Is Your Lube Getting In Your Way?

When you’re trying to conceive (TTC) there are already so many things you’re told you can’t do. And things no one tells you that could be getting in your way. And then on top of that you’re not supposed to stress out about it!

If you’ve been diagnosed with unexplained infertility, you’re trying to figure out what you could do to improve your chances of conceiving. Whether you’re continuing to try naturally or as you add in assisted reproductive technologies like medicated cycles with Clomid or Letrozole, IUI, or IVF, make sure these simple tips are on your list:

Make sure you’re using a lubricant that doesn’t harm sperm.

Believe it or not, your lubricant could be a culprit in your fertility struggles. This is beyond frustrating when you’ve already had at least one sperm test and gone through the battery of blood tests, pelvic ultrasound, and HSG (hysterosalpingogram) and everything’s showing up normal. Some experts advise to forego lubricant, but as someone who still occasionally struggles with vestibulitis (a form of painful intercourse) myself, I find that wildly unrealistic.

What you want to look for as you evaluate lubricants are pH and osmolality.

You probably remember pH from science class.

A low pH is acidic (0 – below 7) and a high pH is basic (above 7 – 14). A pH of 7 is neutral. What you’re normally looking for in a lubricant is a pH that suits the vaginal environment (at or just below 4.5 according to the World Health Organization). This is what you should have on hand for general use, especially if you have a history of pelvic pain or other imbalances like yeast infections or UTIs.

However, for conception, healthy sperm has a pH around 7 (according to the World Health Organization). This matches the pH of our fertile cervical mucus as well. That’s a big shift! Aren’t our bodies amazing? So if you’re having challenges getting pregnant, you may find you have success by changing to a different lubricant with a neutral pH. Note that a lot of great lubricants advertise as “pH balanced neutral,” but find out (resource below) if that’s balanced neutral for the vaginal environment (pH around 4.5) or truly pH neutral (7).

Now what on earth is osmolality?

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“Osmolality refers to a substance’s ability to draw moisture out of tissues and cells. Exposure to a lubricant with a higher osmolality than normal vaginal secretions can result in vaginal tissue which literally shrivels up because the moisture in those cells is pulled out. This process leads to irritation and a breakdown of the mucous membrane barrier which protects the vagina from infection. Disrupted vaginal mucous membranes have been associated not only with irritation and discomfort but also with increased risks of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.  Unfortunately, many currently marketed lubricants have high osmolalities which are detrimental to vaginal tissue.” https://www.womensvoices.org/lubricants-womens-health/

Clearly just choosing a lube with the right pH for your needs (whether trying to conceive or not) is only half the issue. Your lubricant shouldn’t be sucking the moisture out of your tissues to do its job (that’s cheating). You want one that’s adding more lubrication! So you want a lower osmolality (below 1200 mOsm/kg is the general recommendation).

What lube should I be using?

If you’ve been using drugstore lubricants, do yourself a favor and hop into a local Good Vibrations (not a sponsored mention, I just love them for how knowledgeable and supportive their staff is). They also have an online store if you can’t make it in person to one of their San Francisco locations.

Here’s a handy chart so you can check pH and osmolality for your current lubricant and get ideas for others that may suit you better. You’re looking for an osmolality below 1200 mOsm/kg and, for conception, a pH of 7.0 (a pH of 4.5 for general vaginal usage).

For a tested fertility lubricant that meets these criteria, one that I hear over and over is BabyDance (sold various places in stores and online from Walgreens to Amazon). It’s not the only one that could work for you, but it is fairly available. Slippery Stuff and Organic Sliquid are some of the other options that make the cut by the criteria above.

Of course plenty of people get pregnant using a wide variety of lubricants and research has not been conclusive, but if you’re having trouble conceiving, a pH 7 lube with low osmolality is one thing you can try adjusting and you may find you have more success!

What else can you do to improve your fertility?

Don’t give up exercise completely.

Movement is so good for you! True, you may need to bring down the intensity a bit depending on the type of activity you’re doing and the challenges you’re having conceiving, but you absolutely don’t have to commit yourself to bedrest! When in doubt, go for walks in your neighborhood or a slow-paced hike in nature. Yin yoga is also wonderful, though you should skip the twists during the two week wait (earlier if you’re doing stimulated cycles to avoid ovarian torsion). There are a bunch of great videos on YouTube if you search for “yoga for conception” or “yoga two week wait.” We can also discuss customized qigong (gentle movement and breathing) exercises for you in your session. Which brings me to:

Come in for acupuncture!

Acupuncture is often recommended by gynecologists and fertility clinics because of its calming effects on the stress and anxiety that you feel while TTC. In addition, acupuncture, supplemented as needed with herbal medicine and moxibustion, has been shown to increase bloodflow to the uterus and ovaries, assisting in the development and release of healthy follicles, increasing the thickness and health of the endometrium, which provides a hospitable environment for implantation, and regulating the desired hormone levels in fertility cycles and early pregnancy. If sperm quality, motility, and/or quantity are concerns, acupuncture and herbal medicine are helpful for addressing those concerns as well.

Trying to conceive can be incredibly challenging and can feel lonely as it’s not an easy subject to discuss, sometimes even with close friends. Adding an acupuncturist to your team means you have a supportive ear and an expert in your corner.


ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter St in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Photos from Unsplash

999 Sutter and a Sign of Relief

I’m moving my acupuncture schedule full time to the Healing Arts Building on Sutter and Hyde in San Francisco this September, which is a big milestone to celebrate. I love how calm this clinic is and patients often remark how relaxed they feel. I’m glad to be spending more time with you in this beautiful healing space!

When I visited before deciding to rent here in Spring 2018, there were many things I loved about the whole building right away. It's beautiful with a lot of old-style character. The Sutter Healing Arts building is brick, which always feels warm to me, was built in the 1900s in Beaux Arts style, and originally housed a urology practice on the first floor with the doctor living upstairs. So there’s a lot of history here as a medical space, yet it’s also been a home from the beginning, making it the perfect place to create a clinic that’s not clinical.

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I grew up in a 1920s cottage so the turn of the century architecture and period details here make me feel happy and at home. The ceilings also curve upward, like an embrace or that the sky is over you. I painted the room blue to enhance that feeling, like you're floating on a cloud.

The address here is 999 Sutter and in Japanese, the number nine is kyu (pronounced kYOO) which sounds like the word for relief, kyusai. This makes 9 a lucky number for health.

As it happens, I really lucked out on the 9s because the suite number is 306 (adds up to 9) and the zip code is 94109.

See? Memorable, and an indication of how you'll feel here!


ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter St in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Spring Energy

Happy First Day of Spring! Spring is when new green shoots rise, tendrils reach out for the next hold, and the world gets a bit warmer and brighter. I hope holding that image in your mind helps you find what the majority of my patients said their goal was for this year: more energy.

I think we're so tired in part because we're expected to come out of the gate of the New Year bursting with energy for new projects and self improvement. I've never been one to make New Year's Resolutions, but this year it felt especially off, setting us all up for failure. It's just not the right time. Winter is when we want to curl up in front of a fire with a good book, a blanket, and a hot beverage. No wonder we fail so routinely at most of our resolution setting and everyone coming in in January was so incredibly fatigued!

Then just when we might have recovered a bit we were hit with the spring forward daylight savings time change and I find myself (and most of my patients) still struggling to adjust ten days later.

Be gentle with yourself as we start to spread out into what should start to be warmer weather (we got quite a taste last week)! Picture the plants that are just opening up. Gently stretch your body. Awaken slowly.

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Spring is a better time energetically for new growth and taking on new projects. If you didn't have the energy for the changes or intentions you set for January 1 or Chinese New Year, don't lose heart. Try again this Spring, or even Summer. Find the time of year when your energy rises.

And of course, if you don’t have enough energy to complete your daily activities, are stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, and having trouble falling or staying asleep, please come in for acupuncture. That’s not sustainable and I want you to have a great year! Acupuncture has tools to help you regain some of that rest, rebalance with the season, manage your stress and anxiety, and restore a healthy sleep schedule.


FOUND THIS INTERESTING? RELATED POSTS ON A CUPPA QI:

What Autumn Holds for You

Joyful Movement

Stress Relief and the Pantone Color of the Year

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Header/mug photo: Unsplash

Fatigue photo: Death to the Stock Photo

Can Acupuncture Treat ...?

It's a very common question: "Does acupuncture treat …?" The short answer is YES!, no matter the condition, because acupuncture is a complete medical system.

While it’s tempting to hear that as equivalent to a specific drug being touted as a panacea, it’s really like saying all of medicine can address a wide variety of ailments. We’re much more comfortable with that concept. Western or allopathic medicine can help with lots of things to varying degrees. It’s much the same with acupuncture. That’s one of the reasons it’s more accurately referred to as a complementary medicine, rather than alternative medicine.

Saying acupuncture can treat almost anything is more like saying all of medicine has a lot of answers than that one particular drug is a cure-all.
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Acupuncture and herbal medicine are toolkits based upon a complex theoretical model of the human body as a reflection of the natural world. Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach. For example, it doesn't matter if the thermometer says you don't have a temperature. If you feel too hot, we might call that a fever (and one of a variety of fevers depending on the rest of what’s going on). The practice of this medicine includes asking lots of questions so I can understand as best as possible what's going on for you since I can't feel what you feel for you.

Primary importance is placed on your symptoms and experience so this is truly a patient-centered approach.

I then also "read" your body through palpation (gently touching your body - usually your legs, arms, and abdomen), taking your pulses, looking at your tongue (the only visible muscle in the body), and other diagnostic methods. This helps to clarify the pattern because lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What's causing yours?

The goal is to get a complete picture of the pattern at play, as opposed to treating each symptom individually. Something's not in balance, so there are a variety of expressions of that imbalance. Address the issue at the root and multiple signals can fade back or disappear.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

When I’m working to combine all your symptoms with your diagnostic readings to form the right acupuncture treatment in an efficient amount of time.

This is why it sometimes looks like I'm doing mental calculus while I'm working. There’s a lot to think about! This is also why becoming an acupuncturist takes 3.5 years of graduate school (that’s the shortest estimate at full time with no summer breaks), clinical hours (our version of a residency), and rigorous study for a comprehensive licensing exam that includes traditional medicine theory, knowledge of hundreds of acupuncture point locations and functions, medical safety measures along with medical ethics and local laws, plus Western terminology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and standards of care for every major condition from depression to mastitis to stomach cancer, etc. plus mandatory continuing education. I confess I had no idea how qualified my acupuncturist was when I first started as an acupuncture patient!

Lots of things can cause cramps, for example, or headaches. What’s causing yours?

Because everything is placed within a pattern, we can get into all the stuff that you've lived with but never known how to describe or where to go to deal with it. I've heard everything from “I’m phlegmy, but only right after I eat” to "my legs feel like they're going to float away" to "I feel completely exhausted after my period" to "I have this reoccurring dream about a boat on fire and it makes me anxious about getting ready for bed."

This theory helps direct us in our selection of channels and points and methods for stimulating them to change and action, including a variety of ways of needling, some involving insertion. There are also a host of other treatment modalities such as internal herbal medicine, topical herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, a variety of forms of massage, and beyond.

Under the umbrellas of women’s health and emotional health, my patients come to me with a wide variety of chief complaints – the big need that brings you in the door. We focus our attention on that main thing, but because acupuncture is a holistic medicine, from there we also keep in mind the whole picture of your health. We discuss how you sleep, your diet and digestion, any aches and pains, etc.

I always smile when I've just seen a patient with anxiety and a fertility patient comes in next and asks hesitantly if I think acupuncture might help for their anxious thoughts. And vice versa! Same thing happens when they mention a family member has shingles (I've seen acupuncture reduce the severity of the immediate flare and any post-herpetic neuralgia). The vast coverage of this medicine is one of the things that allows you to rely on me as a resource as your situation shifts and changes. Because changing is part of life!

So while there are some conditions that we'll definitely want you to either seek Western care for first or create an integrative approach, many health concerns could potentially be handled primarily with acupuncture and/or herbal medicine. Please talk to a licensed acupuncturist like myself to figure out the best way forward for you.

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About Shawna

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Header image: Death to the Stock Photo
Icons: 
Freepik and Anatoly from Flaticon

2019 Thumbtack Top Pro

For the second year in a row I am proud to share that I have been named a Top Pro by Thumbtack, a tool that connects customers with local professionals.

Thank you to all the patients who found me through Thumbtack and were generous with their feedback. Only 4% of Thumbtack's professionals are named Top Pro and I'm honored to be recognized.

Read more about Thumbtack and the Top Pro program in my 2018 post.

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.