In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a medical procedure where eggs from a woman’s ovary are carefully removed and fertilized in a laboratory. Depending on the woman’s treatment, one or two fertilized eggs (called embryos) are transferred into a woman’s uterus. The IVF process may take several weeks, or months, depending on the woman’s treatment.
In vitro fertilization is a form of assisted reproductive technology (ART). The goal of ART is to help women and men struggling with infertility achieve a pregnancy. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after 1 year of trying to conceive. An estimated 1 in 8 couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Common causes of infertility in couples include:
- Age. Age is the most common factor that affects a woman’s fertility. As women age, their fertility declines.
- Endometriosis [en-doh-mee-tree-OH-sis]. Endometriosis is a disease in which the kind of tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside of it. It can grow on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and intestines. The excess growth can alter normal body functions.
- Polyps or fibroids in the uterus. These growths are usually benign (noncancerous), but can still affect a woman’s fertility.
- Pelvic infections. Certain pelvic infections — especially if left untreated — can cause damage to the reproductive organs and affect a woman’s fertility.
- Damage to the fallopian tubes. This may make sperm unable to find and fertilize an egg or may make the fallopian tube unable to pick up the egg released by the ovaries.
- Problems with ovulation (producing and releasing eggs). If a woman’s egg can’t be produced or released, it can’t be fertilized naturally.
- Problems with the male’s sperm. Both a man’s quality and the amount of sperm he has can affect his fertility.
In many cases, the cause of infertility is unknown. In general, couples will try other fertility treatments before proceeding with IVF. These treatments may include fertility medicines, intrauterine insemination (IUI), and even surgery. If
A specialist called a reproductive endocrinologist typically performs IVF procedures. A reproductive endocrinologist has specialized training in obstetrics and gynecology and treats reproductive issues such as infertility.
The IVF process does come with risks. Your physician will discuss these risks with you before you begin an IVF cycle. Common risks include:
- Multiple babies
- Ectopic pregnancy (the embryo attaches outside of the uterus)
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (ovaries become swollen as a result of the medication protocol)
- Canceled cycle
- Not achieving a pregnancy
One disadvantage to IVF is cost. Most insurance companies do not cover the cost of IVF. Depending on the clinic and the couple’s circumstances, one IVF cycle may cost between $18,000 and $25,000.
Before you begin IVF, your physician will perform several tests on you and your partner. These tests are a series of blood tests and ultrasounds that evaluate a woman’s ovarian reserve (ability to provide egg cells that are able to be fertilized), and the quality of a male’s sperm.
A woman will usually begin by taking birth control for a certain amount of time before beginning an IVF cycle. This allows her physician to monitor her cycle in preparation for IVF.
An IVF cycle will begin after a woman starts her period. A common IVF cycle involves several steps.
- The woman will give herself a series of injections to stimulate her ovaries to develop multiple eggs.
- The woman will also give herself injections to prepare her uterus to receive the fertilized eggs.
- The woman will have several ultrasounds so her physician can monitor the development of the eggs, as well as the lining of the uterus.
- When the eggs are mature, the woman’s physician will use an ultrasound to retrieve the eggs from the woman’s ovaries.
- The eggs are then fertilized with sperm in a laboratory.
- The growth and development of the eggs will be monitored for several days.
- Depending on the woman’s physician and treatment, one or a couple of fertilized eggs (called embryos) will be transferred to the woman’s uterus.
- After the transfer, the woman will begin injecting herself with a hormone called progesterone to help sustain a pregnancy.
If a woman becomes pregnant, she will continue to take a progesterone for several weeks. She will also be brought in for an ultrasound at about 6 weeks into her pregnancy to check the development of the embryo and if there is a heartbeat (this is often referred to as a viability scan). If there is a heartbeat at 6 weeks, the woman will be released into the care of her obstetrician.
If the IVF cycle failed, the woman’s physician will discuss whether or not to proceed with another IVF attempt.
Your recovery will depend on the stage of the IVF process, the type of IVF treatment, and your other health conditions.
- After the egg retrieval, you may experience cramping, pressure, or a feeling of fullness in the pelvic area.
- After the embryo transfer (2 to 6 days after egg retrieval), you may experience some pelvic cramping. You can resume your normal daily activities, but your ovaries may still be enlarged. Avoid vigorous activities that can cause pain or discomfort.