What is IVF?
IVF is the process of harvesting eggs from the ovaries and sperm from the testes. The eggs are then fertilized in a lab and the embryo is placed inside of the female womb. The insertion of the embryo does not guarantee attachment to the uterine wall or conception. Eggs and sperm can come from parents or donors. A surrogate can also be used. IVF success depends on the health of the mother or carrier and the cause of infertility.
When is IVF recommended?
IVF is used to treat fertility issues or genetic conditions. Fertility issues can include repeat miscarriages, tubal blockages, cervical disorders, or sperm dysfunction. During the IVF process, the fertilized eggs can be screened for genetic conditions before being inserted into the uterus. Radiation and chemotherapy can harm fertility. Couples may choose to have eggs and sperm harvested and frozen for future use. Fertilized eggs can also be frozen. Same-sex couples may also turn to IVF to start a family. In some instances, a gestational carrier will be used.
How long does it take?
The entire process takes approximately 4-7 weeks. IVF is not a single treatment and often takes multiple visits. Couples will work with a fertility specialist to create an IVF plan.
IVF starts with medical consultation and health screening of all parties involved. Health screenings will include testing for infectious diseases. Knowing family medical history can allow doctors to determine chances of IVF success. Both the mother and father will undergo hormone testing such as ovarian reserve testing and semen analysis.
The first few weeks are dedicated to egg maturity. The female will be placed on fertility medication to stimulate the ovaries to release multiple mature eggs. This is known as controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. During the initial weeks the female will be required to go into the doctorís office every few days to monitor follicle development and egg maturity. This is the most time-consuming part of the IVF process: waiting for the eggs to mature and develop. When the eggs are almost ready, a final trigger shot will be given to prepare the eggs for harvesting. The eggs are ready for retrieval 36 hours after the trigger shot is given.
Once the eggs are harvested and sperm is donated and washed, the eggs are fertilized in a lab. Between 8-15 eggs are harvested during the retrieval process. The more eggs, the greater the chances of a fertilized embryo. Embryos are typically ready about 3-5 days after fertilization. Only the strongest embryos will be selected for insertion. Extra embryos can be frozen or disposed of. The female will be asked to come back into the office to have the embryos inserted into the uterus. A maximum of 5 embryos can be inserted at one time. The more embryos inserted, the higher the chance of implantation.
After the embryos have been inserted the female will be given progesterone supplements to encourage implantation. A pregnancy test can be taken within 10-12 days. Women must often go through multiple IVF cycles before becoming pregnant.
From start to finish, the individual IVF cycle takes 4-7 weeks. The longest part of the process is preparing the eggs for retrieval and fertilization. Because successful pregnancies often require multiple cycles, a strong support network is recommended. Couples pursuing IVF treatment should speak with a fertility specialist for more information.