IVF (in vitro fertilization) is a type of fertility treatment where eggs are combined with sperm outside of your body in a lab. It’s a method used by people who need help achieving pregnancy. IVF involves many complex steps and is an effective form of assisted reproductive technology (ART).
The process involves monitoring and stimulating a woman’s ovulatory process, removing an ovum or ova from her ovaries and letting sperm fertilise them in a culture medium in a laboratory.
Pregnancy happens if any of the embryos implant in the lining of your uterus. IVF has many steps, and it takes several months to complete the whole process. It sometimes works on the first try, but many people need more than 1 round of IVF to get pregnant.
People choose IVF for many reasons, including infertility issues or when one partner has an existing health condition. Some people will try IVF after other fertility methods have failed or if they’re at an advanced maternal age. IVF is also a reproductive option for same-sex couples or people who wish to have a baby without a partner.
IVF is used to treat infertility and some genetic problems. It may also help people in the sexually- and gender-diverse (LGBTIAQ+) community start a family.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) helps with fertilization, embryo development, and implantation, so you can get pregnant.
How does IVF work?
IVF stands for in vitro fertilization. It’s one of the more widely known types of assisted reproductive technology (ART). IVF works by using a combination of medicines and surgical procedures to help sperm fertilize an egg, and help the fertilized egg implant in your uterus.
First, you take medication that makes several of your eggs mature and ready for fertilization. Then the doctor takes the eggs out of your body and mixes them with sperm in a lab, to help the sperm fertilize the eggs. Then they put 1 or more fertilized eggs (embryos) directly into your uterus. Pregnancy happens if any of the embryos implant in the lining of your uterus.
IVF has many steps, and it takes several months to complete the whole process. It sometimes works on the first try, but many people need more than 1 round of IVF to get pregnant. IVF definitely increases your chances of pregnancy if you’re having fertility problems, but there’s no guarantee — everyone’s body is different and IVF won’t work for everyone.
What’s the IVF process?
The first step in IVF is taking fertility medications for several months to help your ovaries produce several eggs that are mature and ready for fertilization. This is called ovulation induction. You may get regular ultrasounds or blood tests to measure your hormone levels and keep track of your egg production.
Once your ovaries have produced enough mature eggs, your doctor removes the eggs from your body (this is called egg retrieval). Egg retrieval is a minor surgical procedure that’s done at your doctor’s office or at a fertility clinic.
You’ll get medicine to help you be relaxed and comfortable during the procedure. Using an ultrasound to see inside your body, the doctor puts a thin, hollow tube through your vagina and into the ovary and follicles that hold your eggs. The needle is connected to a suction device that gently pulls the eggs out of each follicle.
In a lab, your eggs are mixed with sperm cells from your partner or a donor — this is called insemination. The eggs and sperm are stored together in a special container, and fertilization happens. For sperm that have lower motility (don’t swim as well), they may be injected directly into the eggs to promote fertilization. As the cells in the fertilized eggs divide and become embryos, people who work at the lab monitor the progress.
About 3-5 days after the egg retrieval, 1 or more embryos are put into your uterus (this is called embryo transfer). The doctor slides a thin tube through your cervix into your uterus, and inserts the embryo directly into your uterus through the tube.
Pregnancy happens if any of the embryos attach to the lining of your uterus. Embryo transfer is done at your doctor’s office or at a fertility clinic, and it’s usually not painful.
Plan on resting for the rest of the day after your embryo transfer. You can go back to your normal activities the next day. You may also take pills or get daily shots of a hormone called progesterone for the first 8-10 weeks after the embryo transfer. The hormones make it easier for the embryo to survive in your uterus.
IVF is an option if you or your partner has:
Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes.
Low sperm count or other sperm impairments.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or other ovarian conditions.
Problems with your uterus.
Risk of passing on a genetic disease or disorder.
Are using an egg donor or a gestational surrogate.
Intended Parents can determine gender through PGD/PGS/PGT-A during an IVF journey. Given a fertility doctor’s ability to identify XX or XY chromosomes in the embryo with PGD tests, the gender selection process is almost 100% accurate.
What is the difference between IVF and IUI?
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is different from in vitro fertilization (IVF) because in an IUI procedure, fertilization occurs in a person’s body. A sperm sample is collected and washed so only high-quality sperm are left. This sample is inserted into your uterus with a catheter (thin tube) during ovulation. This method helps the sperm get to the egg more easily in hope that fertilization will happen.
With IVF, the sperm and egg are fertilized outside of your uterus (in a lab) and then placed in your uterus as an embryo.
IUI is less expensive and less invasive than IVF. IUI has a lower success rate per cycle.
The side effects of IVF?
Like all medications and medical procedures, IVF has some risks and possible side effects. These include:
bruising from shots
allergic reaction to medicines
Your doctor can talk with you about any questions or concerns you have about IVF risks and side effects.
IVF can also be difficult emotionally, both for the person having the procedures and for their partner and/or family. Many people doing IVF treatments struggle with depression and anxiety throughout the process.
Talking with people who’ve been through fertility struggles and IVF can be really helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. Online and in-person communities are also good places to meet people who understand what you’re going through and can offer advice and support. Counselors and therapists can also be sources of comfort.