Ever feel like the fertility odds are not in your favor? Have hope! Over the last three decades, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has helped millions of couples get pregnant, even when the fertility odds seemed to be against them. In fact, in the U.S. today, about one out of every 100 women giving birth used IVF to get pregnant.
What Happens During IVF?
Before starting IVF, your doctor may start you on a regimen of fertility medications. These fertility pills help to stimulate your ovaries to produce several eggs at a time. Having many eggs helps to increase the chances of getting pregnant with IVF.
While you’re taking the medications, your doctor will monitor your ovaries, check your hormone levels, and verify that your eggs are maturing in the ovarian follicles.
Once the eggs are ripe, a thin needle is used to withdraw the eggs. Once withdrawn, your eggs are mixed with sperm in a glass petri dish where the eggs will be fertilized.
The fertilized eggs, now called embryos, are allowed to incubate for several days. During this time, they will be carefully monitored for healthy growth and development. At just the right moment, the healthiest embryos will be transferred directly into your uterus with the hopes of implantation for pregnancy.
At this time, progesterone supplements may be prescribed to boost your chances of a healthy pregnancy. While some doctors choose to transfer multiple embryos for IVF, others may choose to transfer just one embryo. This is done to avoid any risks associated with multiple pregnancies. One embryo is usually sufficient for pregnancy to occur if you are younger than 35.
Who is a Good Candidate for IVF?
Couples that have been unsuccessful in getting pregnant with other fertility treatments often turn to IVF to conceive. Women with tubal issues can benefit from IVF. Since the IVF procedure bypasses the fallopian tubes entirely, many women with blocked or absent fallopian tubes find that IVF helps them to conceive.
Other good IVF candidates include women with fertility disorders like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). IVF can help them overcome their infertility symptoms and become pregnant. Women with abnormal ovulation cycles can also get pregnant with IVF, since fertility drugs can be used to induce ovulation and generate healthy eggs.
Even women that do not produce healthy eggs can use IVF if they want to use donor eggs. If your partner has male factor infertility, you may be able to use IVF.
Ask your doctor about a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Intracytoplasmic sperm injection requires just one healthy sperm to fertilize an egg during IVF, making it a preferred fertility technique for men with low sperm count.
Who May Not Benefit from IVF?
In vitro fertilization isn’t for everyone. If you do not want to use donor eggs during IVF, and your ovaries do not produce healthy eggs, you will have little success with IVF.
Also, since egg production slows as a woman approaches age 40, women older than 37 may have a reduced chance of getting pregnant with IVF.
If you are past your late 30s, you may consider using donor eggs to increase your chances of conceiving with IVF. Use of donor eggs with IVF achieves similar pregnancy rates for women of all ages, and about 50 percent of women that attempt IVF with donor eggs are able to get pregnant. However, even if older women do get pregnant with donor eggs, women over 40 still have a greater chance of miscarriage.
Conditions that may interfere with IVF success include fibroid tumors, ovarian dysfunction, abnormal hormone levels, and uterine abnormalities. Women with these issues may face lower rates of pregnancy with IVF.
Your IVF journey
If you decide to use IVF to get pregnant, you will need to make a substantial physical, emotional, and financial commitment. In addition, you will need to work closely with your team of doctors, nurses, and fertility clinic staff during the process.
Since most insurance companies do not cover the entire cost of IVF, many couples find it difficult to continue with multiple cycles of the treatment. To make it easier, your fertility clinic may offer special payment and financing options.
To reduce the emotional stress associated with IVF and fertility treatments, ask your clinic if they offer individual or group counseling options. Many couples find it helpful to talk about the challenges of IVF with a counseling professional, especially one that understands the stress associated with fertility treatments.
For IVF to be successful you will also need to carefully follow your doctor’s recommendations and guidelines. If you have gone through three to four cycles of IVF and have not achieved a pregnancy, your doctor may want to chat with you about whether this fertility therapy is worth continuing.