IVF, or in vitro fertilization, allows fertility doctors to help infertile couples start a family. IVF is one of the most successful methods for treating infertility. IVF was developed and first carried out in 1977 by British gynecologist Patrick Steptoe and his physiologist colleague Robert Edwards. IVF treatment became much more common as it began to be offered at private IVF clinics and IVF costs were lowered significantly.
Over 100,000 babies are born each year through this method all over the world. IVF advantages are that it is effective, efficient, and highly controlled which helps doctors produce healthy embryos without genetic defects; IVF disadvantages include its cost as well as the fact that some women find IVF treatments painful. IVF treatment involves the following:
Step 1 – Stimulation of Ovarian Follicles
The first step in IVF treatment is for a woman to receive hormones that help stimulate several of her eggs to develop within her ovaries before she actually begins the IVF pregnancy cycle. The IVF hormone injections usually begin just after your menstrual period, but sometimes can be prescribed by fertility doctors if you are menopausal or post-menopausal. As a result, your eggs can mature over the next few days and become ready to be retrieved around day 7 after you have begun taking the medication. In some cases, when egg quality has been compromised due to reduced ovarian reserve or advancing age, it may not be possible to stimulate more than a few eggs, if any. IVF centers may recommend IVF egg donation in such cases.
Step 2 – Ovarian Stimulation and Egg Retrieval
Once your eggs are ready, IVF doctors will give you drugs that finalize the maturation process of your eggs so they can be retrieved for fertilization. The IVF retrieval process is done under sedation or general anesthesia and takes anywhere from sixty minutes to two hours depending on how many eggs are being removed from your body. Once the egg retrieval is complete, IVF physicians will decide how many follicles should be harvested based on their size and appearance as well as your age, health status, and ovarian reserve. A healthy female produces about 15–20 eggs a month; IVF patients may produce anywhere from 3 to 25 eggs in a single IVF cycle depending on how many sperm are available for fertilization. IVF costs depend on whether you need to purchase additional medication and how many IVF retrieval procedures you undergo.
Step 3 – Fertilization of IVF Eggs
The IVF lab now uses sperm provided by the male partner or donor through intrauterine insemination (IUI) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) which is carried out when the mature egg has been retrieved from your body during ovarian stimulation. If the couple chooses anonymous donor IVF, or IVF using frozen embryos, then their chosen donator will be invited into the IVF lab to produce sperm which will be used for IVF. The IVF laboratory takes a sample of the man's sperm and puts it into an IVF incubator along with your eggs to allow fertilization to take place over several hours. IVF doctors monitor embryo development after insemination and remove healthy embryos at specific points during development.
Step 4 – Embryo Transfer
Prior to embryo transfer into your uterus, the embryos will be checked by an embryologist who will then determine their quality based on their appearance and growth rate; only healthy IVF embryos with the potential to develop will be used for IVF transfer. A catheter tube is passed through your cervix and into your uterus where IVF embryos are transferred. Some IVF pregnancies may only require one embryo to be transferred; others may require up to three IVF embryos in order to increase chances of success. The IVF clinic staff closely monitors IVF transfers, but no more than three visits should be required after 24 hours have passed following the procedure so as not to disturb the IVF embryo.
Step 5 – Pregnancy Test and IVF Birth
If IVF pregnancy is successful, HCG hormone should appear in your blood or urine within seven to 10 days of IVF embryo transfer; this is the substance produced by the developing placenta during IVF pregnancy and can be detected with a home pregnancy test kit that you can purchase from any pharmacy. IVF success rates are highest when implanted embryos (those transferred directly into the uterus) are left undisturbed for 4–6 weeks while giving them time to implant naturally onto the uterine wall. IVF centers generally make IVF pregnancy status available to patients on a monthly or bi-monthly basis; if the IVF center you are using is providing regular IVF updates then it is likely that you will receive IVF pregnancy news by email, IVR calls, and/or post.
IVF newborns are delivered by Caesarean section 20–24 weeks after fertilization unless your IVF doctors advise vaginal birth for any reason such as a previous C-section or another health issue of the baby. If your uterus remains healthy throughout the IVF process when carrying more than one embryo at a time (multiple births), then you may prefer to have a single baby rather than twins through IVF methods.
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