Infertility treatment has been a taboo topic for so long, as has the IVF process as a whole when it comes to pregnancy. But with more and more celebrities coming out about their trials and errors with IVF and other reproductive technology— women like Chrissy Teigan, Celine Dion, and Emma Thompson—the stigma surrounding a womans uterus is finally lifting. However, there is still an increasing number of misconceptions and myths floating around about the treatment. But what is IVF?
In-vitro fertilization IVF, is a technique used to help couples conceive a baby as it's a type of infertility treatment. During IVF treatment, an egg is taken from a woman—either directly from the uterus, or from a previously frozen stash—and is fertilized by a mans sperm in an IVF laboratory at a fertility clinic via sperm injection. Once fertilized, the egg is then placed back inside the woman uterus where it will hopefully mature throughout pregnancy.
Women can choose to use their eggs or a donors’. Similarly, the sperm can be from their partner, or from a donor.
There are 6 stages of in-vitro fertilization IVF treatment from start to finish according to the NHS. And the process begins far before the eggs are harvested for fertilization and fertilized with a man's sperm in the IVF laboratory.
It begins with a woman suppressing her menstrual cycle with specified medication. They are then given hormones and other medications to increase the woman’s egg supply. Doctors use medication to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs than normal so that there are ample eggs to choose from throughout treatment.
While the eggs are being produced, doctors are constantly monitoring the process inside the woman’s reproductive organs—ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus—with frequent ultrasounds. Once it is established that a fair amount of healthy eggs have been produced, a doctor will conduct an egg retrieval using a needle that is inserted into the ovaries. Or they will use a previously frozen embryo. After this, the eggs are fertilized with a man sperm then reintroduced into the uterus.
Doctors often implant one or sometimes two fertilized embryos. Women are then given another round of medication, usually a progesterone supplement to promote implantation.
The entire process of in-vitro fertilization typically takes 4 to 8 weeks. This includes the initial round of medications and monitoring up past implantation of the embryo and pregnancy testing. Women undergoing IVF treatment tend to take one pregnancy test approximately 12 days after the embryo transfer. A second pregnancy test is performed a week after the initial positive test, and if the results are still positive, they are scheduled for an ultrasound. Now that a pregnancy has been successful, it’s 38 weeks of childbearing before that energetic ball of sunshine comes into the world.
But even with all this information about IVF treatment available, there are still some questions floating around. Some of them are based on religious and moral outrage, others come from false information found online. There are myths that turn people away from IVF treatment. Maybe they think that because they are infertile that IVF won’t work. Maybe they think that they are doing a religious disservice by participating in this treatment. Maybe they don’t want the social stigma that comes with having to explain that they had to resort to IVF because of prevailing inaccuracies about IVF treatment. Maybe they think the hormones will drive them insane. Maybe they think the needles are the size of a yardstick.
With the treasure trove of inaccurate information about IVF available not only on the internet, but being perpetuated by friends and family, It’s important that we make this a topic of conversation that everyone can be comfortable engaging in. In order to do that, it’s vital to dispel as many myths and misconceptions about the IVF process as we can.
10 IVF Myths
Here are 10 of the most popular myths surrounding IVF and why they are totally wrong.
1. IVF is always successful.
Unfortunately, IVF treatment isn’t the end-all be-all solution. As a result of things outside of anyone’s control, IVF isn’t a guarantee for anyone.
There are of course things a person can do to increase their chances, and a lot of them have to do with mentally preparing for failure. It can take up to five or six rounds of IVF to get an embryo that survives past sperm injection. And this isn’t a process that is easy to handle emotionally, physically, or financially.
There are a number of physical factors that go into what will bring about success—these depend on age, previous pregnancies, lifestyle, and type of fertility problem. That’s not to say that any of these will negate a successful IVF treatment entirely, but there are a lot of factors and many people won’t have the emotional or financial capacity to keep trying.
2. IVF babies have more birth defects.
This myth is an outright lie. It might have been a worry back in the day, but there is no proof that says IVF causes birth defects or abnormalities.
Children born naturally to parents without fertility problems have a three to five percent risk of birth defects, and there are no studies to show that children born through IVF have any higher risk rates. In a research study conducted by April Dawson and Dr. Jennita Reefhuis, they found that the number of birth defects was actually higher in children born naturally than in those using other techniques and reproductive technology. The natural birth group had 45 documented defects while the artificially birthed group only found 25.
To ensure your embryos are free of any defects, do specific testing before they are implanted. PGD screening ensures the healthiest embryo is used.
3. Stress lowers the success rate of IVF.
According to an article included in the March 2014 edition of Human Reproduction, two stress chemicals linked to infertility were studied in over 400 woman. These two biomarkers are called alpha-amylase and cortisol. At the end of the study, it was concluded that those with a higher level of alpha-amylase were linked to higher infertility rates.
That being said, the actual effect of stress during IVF treatment has yet to be studied and has no scientific backing. It is true that stress causes more people to drop out or discontinue IVF treatment, but there is no indication that a more stressful life leads to a decreased success rate throughout treatment. The success of IVF treatment is all based on an embryo being accepted by the uterus, and stress has little to no affect on this process studies currently show. And these studies fail to take into account the close care given to patients by doctors throughout the treatment, as well as the medication and hormones administered throughout the process. If anything, stress affects the parents of IVF babies more than the actual process and treatment of IVF itself.
4. IVF treatment will likely lead to twins and triplets.
This misconception stems from the fact that after egg retrieval and fertilization, doctors used to put multiple embryos inside the uterus. That was in the hopes of increasing success rates, but very rarely resulted in multiple fetuses. Nowadays, doctors tend to ensure the one embryo they implant is the best embryo in the bunch. They will sometimes implant two, but it is still much more likely that one will survive while the second will not. The goal of any trained IVF doctor and fertility center is one healthy, happy baby.
Most instances of multiple pregnancies come from other methods of fertility treatment. Either a woman is using medication to stimulate increased egg production then gets pregnant naturally, or it is a natural phenomenon caused by the female body. Either way, IVF won’t give you triplets or quadruplets.
5. Frozen eggs aren’t as effective as fresh eggs.
There is no scientific evidence backing this claim. Any IVF clinic or IVF center will tell you that the procedure can be successful with a fresh egg collection or a frozen egg collection. And while what matters more is the woman's egg as opposed to the uterus, as long as the male sperm can effectively fertilize the embryo and its accepted by the uterus, the IVF procedure should be successful. In fact, frozen eggs might be the only option for some women! And frozen eggs, and frozen embryos can last for years.
When IVF treatment was new, frozen embryos were susceptible to damage from ice crystals, but that’s no longer a worry.
6. IVF is covered entirely by all insurance companies.
Unfortunately, this one is a myth. Nowadays, most insurance companies cover a portion of the IVF process, but what exactly is covered depends on the company and the policy. Some cover examinations and consultations. Some cover testing and treatment. But in 2017 insurance still doesn’t cover the full cost of IVF treatment at fertility centers.
The good thing is that most clinics already know these things and have counselors ready to talk patients through their options.The IVF program can be an extremely expensive treatment and it might be impossible for some people to cover it without the help of their insurer. It’s important, in the meantime, for you to familiarize yourself with your insurance company, plan, and policy coverage.
7. IVF increases risk of cancer.
We’re happy to say this one is an absolute myth! There is no study or link that shows that fertility drugs, artificial insemination, or ovarian stimulation are connected to cancer of any kind—breast, ovarian, or any other.
A study by Jama debunks this myth entirely. According to the research, which took data from more than 25,000 women, the risk of breast cancer was not increased as a result of ovarian stimulation tied to in-vitro fertilization. The women studied were undergoing fertility treatment from 1980 until 1995, and the study followed up with the participants 21 years later to prove the link to be nonexistent.
8. Older women can’t go through IVF treatment.
This one is slightly true, but don’t be alarmed! Your pregnancy hopes won't be dashed just yet. Women over the age of 45 are encouraged not to get pregnant with IVF because of decreased IVF success rates, but these rates are only based on the success of their own eggs.
According to a November 2011 study in Human Reproduction, the success of in-vitro fertilization treatment is based on the eggs used, and not the person carrying the egg. If an older woman used eggs donated by a donor, or eggs frozen from a younger age, the success rates will correlate to that time and person.
9. After IVF treatment, you can’t do any strenuous activity.
We’re not sure where this one really came from, but it’s not true. Whether or not you go on a run the afternoon after you get the embryo implanted doesn’t have any effect on the success of your pregnancy. In fact, some believe that altering your normal routine by going on bed rest could have some detrimental effects. Changing up your schedule could mess with your body internally, making it harder for the embryo to be accepted by the woman uterus. Sudden, unexpected bed rest could disrupt blood flow and alter the regular workings of the heart. So instead of heading to bed after your treatment, head out for a nice, relaxing lunch and stroll. Your body, brain, and baby will thank you.
10. IVF destroys potential lives.
Because of the process of in-vitro fertilization IVF, more eggs are produced within the ovaries, meaning there are more opportunities for life to grow once those eggs are reached by sperm. And many people object to this form of infertility treatment as they see it as a way for scientists to steal potential lives and end them. This is due to the belief that the fertilized embryos created in the lab are innately living beings without taking into account it is still vital that the woman’s uterus accepts the embryo. It is also a matter of natural selection. More often than not, a fertilized egg never makes it to a mature enough stage to survive in the uterus.
In fact, a health woman in perfect birthing condition only has a 20% chance of conceiving a child every month outside of any medical intervention.
As with all mind and body related topics, it’s vital to talk with your doctor. If you’re worried about your fertility, or have questions about IVF treatment and other infertility technologies, make sure you contact a professional IVF center or fertility clinic. An IVF procedure at an IVF clinic could give you the answers you’re looking for, but the IVF program isn’t necessarily for everyone. IVF success rates are based on a number of factors, and just because the IVF success rate for one person is low or high, doesn’t mean yours will either. There are still a lot of questions you’re sure to have if thinking about pursuing IVF as a way to get pregnant, but hopefully, we’ve answered a few. And hopefully, we’ve been able to quell any fears and offer the truth about statements you had previously assumed to be true. The internet is full of myths, but these just got debunked.