There are many reasons why you and your partner, or you alone, might seek in-vitro fertilization treatment. While a somewhat expensive infertility treatment—and rarely the first step for a woman who suffers from infertility—IVF can increase the odds of you having a successful pregnancy.
Success rates vary by age. They tend to be lower in older women. According to the American Pregnancy Association, IVF pregnancy rates (which does not mean the same thing as a live birth rate) are as follows:
IVF Success Rates By Age
|Age||IVF Success Rate|
|Ages 35 to 37||33-36%|
|Ages 38 to 40||23-27%|
IVF can be used as a course of treatment in a variety of infertility cases, such as:
- Decreased sperm count or low sperm motility
- Fallopian tubes blockages of damages
- Ovulation disorders, issues, or failure
- Fibroids in the uterus
- Genetic disorders
- Fallopian tube removals
- Unexplained fertility issues
IVF is the most common form of assisted reproductive technology (ART), accounting for 99 percent of ART procedures in the United States, and also the most effective according to the Mayo Clinic.
The IVF treatment process
If you are considering IVF treatment after experiencing infertility issues, you will go to a fertility clinic discuss your options with a specialist. (You may get a list of IVF centers from your OB-GYN or research them independently.) You and your partner will discuss your history with infertility, possible underlying causes and factors contributing, and courses of treatment. You will both undergo a series of tests to gauge the viability of your eggs and sperm respectively and help identify the potential factors contributing to your infertility.
If you elect to undergo the procedure, a fertility specialist will give patients hormones to stimulate the production of multiple eggs per month as opposed to the normal one. She will then test you to determine when you are ready for egg retrieval and give you injections that will cause ovulation to occur. She will need to remove the eggs promptly; timing is crucial for ensuring that the eggs develop properly.
After your doctor removes the eggs, they will be mixed with your partner's sperm in a lab and kept under observation for up to five days. You will return for the embryo transfer, when the embryo or embryos will be transferred into your uterus. IVF experts recommend transferring up to three embryos at one time to increase your odds of a having a successful pregnancy.
If you don't produce healthy eggs, or if your partner doesn't produce healthy sperm, you may elect to use donor eggs, sperm, or embryos.
Your doctor will probably give you a pregnancy test (blood test) to detect the pregnancy hormone hCG between 10 and 14 days after the egg retrieval.
It is best to avoid the temptation of taking a home pregnancy test before you see your doctor again. The fertility drugs—which include the hormone hCG—you are taking might interfere with the test's accuracy, and you could receive a false positive. Your doctor will give you a much more accurate test.
These are the procedures involved in a single IVF cycle, but you may choose to repeat the process and undergo another IVF cycle if your first does not result in pregnancy. Of course, the expense may limit the number of cycles you choose to undergo. Each IVF cycle costs on average $23,000 in the U.S., before medications, which can cost $3,000 to $5,000 more.
What to expect from an IVF pregnancy
Most likely, your fertility specialist will want to observe the early stages of your pregnancy before referring you to an OB-GYN to monitor the rest of the pregnancy.
Depending on your personal situation, during your IVF pregnancy, your doctor may keep you on progesterone treatment. She will also probably continue to monitor your estrogen, hCG, and progesterone hormone levels for several weeks following the positive pregnancy test to make sure you are sustaining a normal and healthy pregnancy.
Your fertility specialist may also perform one or more ultrasounds to both monitor the pregnancy and see if you are experiencing a multiple pregnancy—meaning twins, triplets, or more.
A multiple pregnancy when you experience IVF success is not uncommon, because the in-vitro fertilization process usually involves transferring multiple embryos into your uterus.
One possible risk associated with women who undergo IVF treatment is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). This somewhat rare syndrome occurs more commonly in women who undergo the IVF process and results in painful, swollen ovaries. Side effects include rapid weight gain, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and tenderness of the ovaries. While mild OHSS may go away after a week or so, severe OHSS can result in increased symptoms, including shortness of breath. Consult your doctor if you are undergoing an IVF procedure and experience extreme symptoms of OHSS.
After you have seen a fertility specialist, and your IVF process has resulted in a healthy pregnancy, your fertility doctor may refer patients to a regular OB-GYN. This may be nerve-wracking, particularly for at-risk women who have suffered infertility previously, but be comforted by the fact that this signifies a normal, healthy pregnancy; your doctor wouldn't be recommending this course if she did not believe that your fertility treatment was successful.
Of course, this is a transition period, so don't feel shy or ashamed about asking your doctors questions about the IVF procedure, fertility treatment, and what couples can expect. You should feel free to ask questions before and throughout your pregnancy. Your doctor understands that infertility is a difficult issue for many couples and will probably be more than willing to answer your questions.
Women who undergo IVF treatment may be prone to anxiety and depression, particularly if they have had pregnancies that did not result in a live birth previously. Of course, a woman who has dealt with infertility in the past may have many concerns on top of the normal stressors of pregnancy, such as the health of her baby and viability of her pregnancy.
If you are experiencing significant stress, anxiety, or depression, you should see a mental health professional. While stress is unlikely to harm your baby, it is important to address these issues for yourself and to help ensure that your pregnancy continues as normally as possible. You can also try DIY treatments such as meditation, though you should always see a therapist if you experience severe mental health issues.
IVF pregnancies do carry a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, in which the fetus grows outside the uterus, usually in one of your fallopian tubes. In this case, the pregnancy cannot continue, and you should see your doctor immediately; ectopic pregnancy is potentially life-threatening if left untreated. Get help if you experience any symptoms, which include severe abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and fainting or lightheadedness.
There is a slightly higher-than-average risk of premature delivery and low birth rate associated with IVF, especially if you're experiencing a multiple pregnancy.
Finally, the reason you sought fertility treatment may present risks during your pregnancy. For example, if age played a role in your infertility problems, age can continue to play a role in your pregnancy. Otherwise, take comfort in the fact that your pregnancy is not unlike a natural pregnancy. It may be difficult to relax and enjoy something you have been anticipating and hoping for for a long time, but do your best to be kind to yourself and avoid undue stress. Your baby—and your own peace of mind—will thank you for it