IVF has been around for decades and today it accounts for a third of all fertility treatments worldwide, says the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).
IVF is commonly used to treat:
- Older women with fertility issues
- Women with damaged or blocked fallopian tubes
- Women with endometriosis
- Male infertility caused by low sperm count or blockage
1. Superovulation (Egg Production)You’ll be given fertility drugs that will begin a process called stimulation—or superovulation, says the National Institutes of Health. In other words, the drugs—which contain Follicle Stimulating Hormone—will tell your body to produce more than just the normal one egg per month.
The more eggs you produce, the more chances you’ll have of a successful fertilization later on in the treatment.
You’ll receive transvaginal ultrasounds and blood tests on a regular basis during this step in the IVF process to check on your ovaries and monitor your hormone levels.
Source: National Institutes of Health and ESHRE
2. Egg RetrievalA little more than a day before your eggs are scheduled to be retrieved from your body, you’ll receive a hormone injection that will help your eggs mature quickly.
Then, you’ll have a minor surgical procedure—called follicular aspiration—to remove the eggs. This is generally done as an outpatient surgery in your doctor’s office, according to the NIH.
During the procedure, your doctor will use an ultrasound to guide a thin needle into each of your ovaries through your vagina. The needle has a device attached to it that suctions the eggs out one at a time.
If this part sounds painful, don’t worry—you’ll probably be given medication beforehand so that you won’t feel any discomfort. You may experience some cramping afterward, but this usually disappears within a day, the NIH explains.
3. Sperm CollectionWhile your eggs are being removed, your partner is going to need to provide a sperm sample. The sperm are then put through a high-speed wash and spin cycle in order to find the healthiest ones.
4. Insemination and FertilizationNow comes the part of IVF that everyone’s most familiar with—combining your partner’s healthiest sperm with your healthiest eggs. This stage is called insemination.
It usually takes a few hours for a sperm to fertilize an egg. Your doctor may also inject the sperm directly into the egg instead.
5. Embryo Culture and TransferOnce your eggs have been collected, you’ll receive yet another medication. This one is meant to prep the lining of your uterus to receive the embryos that will be transferred back into you.
About three to five days after fertilization, your doctor will place the embryos in your uterus using a catheter. Like Step 3, this part of IVF is performed in your doctor’s office while you are awake.
Multiple embryos are transferred back into you in the hopes that at least one will implant itself in the lining of your uterus and begin to develop. Sometimes more than one embryo ends up implanting, which is why multiples are common in women who use IVF.
The IVF process basically replicates natural reproduction. The next step after the IVF process determines whether the procedure worked: the pregnancy test.
IVF is increasingly becoming one of the most common and successful procedures, helping couples become proud parents. If you think IVF is the next step in your fertility journey, check with one of Penn Medicine’s fertility experts.