In 1977, the first baby was born via in vitro fertilization (IVF). The revolutionary technology was considered miraculous at the time. The notion of growing an embryo outside of its mother, then implanting it in the uterus to ensure a healthy pregnancy had previously been medical fantasy. But with IVF, a new avenue of hope for infertile couples suddenly opened.
Implantation after IVF works a bit differently since the embryo is implanted directly into the uterus. This strategy greatly increases the chances of a positive pregnancy test, even in people with long-standing infertility.
In the 40+ years since the first IVF transfer, the procedure has come a long way. It’s safer, easier, more affordable, and more accessible than ever before. IVF success rates have soared. For women under 35, the national success rate is about 47% per cycle.
So is IVF right for you? Here’s what you need to know as you weigh your options.
IVF Process: The Basics
IVF is a type of artificial reproductive technology that fertilizes the egg outside of the body. You can use you and your partner’s sperm and egg, or any combination of donor sperm or egg, making IVF a versatile option for people with a wide range of fertility issues.
Once a doctor fertilizes the egg with healthy sperm, it grows into an embryo in a safe laboratory setting. A few days later, the embryo is implanted back into the uterus, where it will hopefully implant and then develop into a healthy baby.
In most cases, the process of IVF begins well before the eggs are retrieved. A woman will need to take hormones to suppress her natural cycle, and to help her produce eggs. In most cases, she’ll produce more than one egg. This increases the odds of a successful cycle.
So what can you expect from IVF? Here’s a rough outline of the process:
You’ll meet with a doctor to discuss your plans. Your doctor will evaluate your options, perform a physical exam, and talk to you about the process, as well as your odds of success.
The woman will take fertility medications. The right medications can help encourage egg production and suppress her natural cycle. In most cases, you’ll take these drugs by injection at home.
The man will give a sperm sample. The sperm is washed and prepared to fertilize the egg.
The woman undergoes an outpatient egg retrieval. During this process, the doctor retrieves the eggs for fertilization.
The sperm is used to fertilize the egg(s). This will be done in a safe lab environment, and the egg is given a few days to grow into an embryo.
A doctor will implant the embryo back into the uterus. The hope from here is that the embryo will implant into the uterus and begin the early stages of pregnancy.
Some women will need additional hormonal treatments to sustain a pregnancy. A doctor will perform testing beforehand to determine if this is appropriate in your case. For example, some women have low progesterone levels that can trigger an early miscarriage. There are Progesterone treatments available that can prevent this from happening.
Some women experience side effects such as sore breasts or weight gain due to IVF hormones. There is also a small risk of ovarian hyperstimulation, so your doctor will need to monitor the health of your ovaries. For most women, however, IVF is very safe and the side effects are minimal. Even when side effects do appear, they are short-lived and will disappear when hormone treatments are discontinued.
After an egg transfer, the two-week wait begins. Depending on the type of IVF you choose, about 10 days after, you’ll get a blood test at your doctor’s office to determine whether you are pregnant and how normal the pregnancy is progressing.
Conditions IVF Can Treat
Most fertility treatments attempt to treat an underlying condition. For example, hormone supplements can treat women who do not ovulate, and endometriosis surgery can make it easier for an egg to implant in the uterus.
IVF is unique because it does not cure or treat the underlying condition. Instead, it aims to work around the fertility issue, circumventing common problems to increase the odds of a successful pregnancy.
IVF is an option for almost anyone with infertility. It’s also the fertility treatment of choice for people attempting to get pregnant with donor sperm or donor eggs.
IVF may be an option for you if you are dealing with:
- Sperm issues. When sperm count is low or sperm quality is bad, the odds of a successful pregnancy are greatly diminished. IVF uses the healthiest sperm to fertilize the egg, working around sperm issues.
- Impotence or ejaculation issues. If the man cannot get an erection or ejaculate, a number of procedures can retrieve the sperm directly from his body. IVF can then fertilize his partner even if the man is unable to have intercourse.
- Ovulation issues. If the woman does not ovulate on her own, IVF drugs can induce ovulation. If the woman ovulates infrequently or irregularly, timing intercourse can be challenging. IVF times everything just right, maximizing the chances of a successful pregnancy.
- Antibody and immune issues. Some women’s bodies attack their partner’s sperm, making it more difficult for the sperm to swim to the egg. IVF works around this issue.
- Unexplained infertility. Unexplained infertility doesn’t necessarily mean nothing is wrong. It just means a doctor does not know what the problem is, or there has not been sufficient testing to arrive at a reliable diagnosis. IVF is a way to get around many common fertility issues without going through the uncertainty and stress of endless testing.
- Age-related infertility. When a woman has a diminished ovarian reserve or either the sperm or egg suffer from quality issues related to age, IVF can help. A doctor ensures the healthiest sperm and egg are used. Moreover, because the odds of success are greater with an IVF cycle, you won’t waste time trying as your fertility declines. Women who have previously frozen eggs can even get pregnant from IVF if they no longer ovulate.
One of the most significant benefits of IVF is that it requires exquisite precision. So your doctor will carefully monitor your cycle at every stage. This provides important information about your reproductive health and can offer more insight into why you have struggled to get pregnant. Information is power, and IVF offers a lot of information.
Factors to Weigh When Evaluating IVF
IVF is the single most effective ART method. It’s more likely to get you pregnant than virtually any other option. So if time is of the essence, it’s often your best bet. As you evaluate your treatment options, here are some helpful things to keep in mind:
- Which treatments you are willing to try. Some people want to avoid IVF if possible. So consider whether you would prefer less invasive options first.
- How much time you have. If you are over the age of 40 or do not want to waste time getting pregnant, IVF may be the fastest route. If you prefer to take a more conservative approach and try less invasive methods, even if they take more time, you may prefer trying other treatments before trying IVF.
- Your specific diagnosis. Some fertility conditions are fairly easy to treat, even without IVF. Ask your doctor whether another option might be viable, especially if you have a medical condition that might cause an insurer to fund treatment.
- Your budget. IVF is one of the more expensive fertility treatment options. However, if you try lots of other options that fail, you can easily spend more than you would on IVF. So talk to your doctor about your odds of success and the cost of treatment, then weigh this in light of your budgetary constraints and timeline.
- Your values. Some people do not want to try IVF because of religious or cultural values. Intrauterine insemination (IUI), which fertilizes the egg inside of the body instead of in a petri dish, may be a better option for these couples.
Questions to Ask Your IVF Provider
The single most important predictor of IVF success is your clinic’s success. While IVF success rates hover between 30-40% per cycle, some clinics are much higher and some clinics are much lower in comparison to this benchmark figure. A clinic’s success rate will tell you a lot about how skillful they are with regard to IVF. Also, be sure to not only ask about their overall success rates but their success rates in relation to people like you and your circumstances. If you’re 42, then your clinic’s success rate with women in their twenties doesn’t reveal much about your odds of a successful pregnancy.
Some other questions to ask your provider before trying IVF include:
- What is my diagnosis? How effective is IVF at treating this diagnosis?
- What are my odds of success? Are there any specific factors that make my odds significantly greater or less than the average?
- Is there anything I can do that will increase my odds of success?
- How much will treatment cost?
- Are there less invasive strategies that you think are worth trying first?
- If we do not treat this at all, what are my odds of getting pregnant?
- If we try other methods but not IVF, what are my odds of a successful pregnancy?
How Often Does IVF Work?
For most couples, IVF success rates hover somewhere between 30-50% per cycle. This means that with each cycle, you have a 1 in 3 to 1 in 2 shot of success.
To put this into context, for healthy couples in their 20s, the odds of getting pregnant each month are about 20% per cycle. The odds decline with age. So IVF success rates are actually higher than the success rates of young, healthy, fertile people. Those are excellent odds!
However, averages don’t reveal much about your odds of success. After all, every individual is different and each infertility case is unique on its own. A number of individual factors can affect your odds of success. Those include:
- Age, since younger people are more likely to get pregnant.
- Overall health.
- Lifestyle. Issues such as smoking or drinking can damage fertility.
- Underlying diagnosis. While IVF can address some fertility issues, it cannot circumvent them all.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Positive IVF Test?
IVF shortens the usual pregnancy timeline. For most couples trying to get pregnant, the fertilized egg must travel to, and implant in the uterus. With IVF, the egg is already there. For most couples, it’s possible to get a positive pregnancy test nine days after a day-three egg transfer, or seven days after a blastocyst transfer. From retrieval to a positive pregnancy test, the wait is usually about 12 days.
This means that not only will your odds of success be higher. You’ll also spend less time waiting. Every couple who has tried IVF knows the agony of the two-week wait. Shaving a few days off of that wait can make everything feel more bearable. Moreover, you won’t have to deal with the uncertainty of a blurry home pregnancy test. We take your HCG levels, so you know immediately whether you’re pregnant and how normal the pregnancy is progressing. You’ve lived with uncertainty for so long. You deserve a little certainty now.
The Center of Reproductive Medicine: Your Choice for IVF
At the Center of Reproductive Medicine in Houston, our singular goal is getting you pregnant as quickly, affordably, and safely as possible. We work with you to understand your needs, talk about your fertility journey, and identify key goals. From the moment you call us, you’ll be met with compassionate understanding. No more endless waiting. No more failed pregnancy tests. No more going through it all alone. Our experts walk you through the journey, no matter where or how it ends.
The process begins with a conversation. From there, we’ll decide which tests are most appropriate, and then make recommendations. We work with you to manage payment options, and fight to get insurance coverage for medically necessary testing and treatments. We know how lonely this journey can feel. So we’re here for you. Don’t waste any more time. You can become a parent, and maybe even sooner than you think. So let’s talk and put together a plan.
Give us a call. We’re here to listen and help.