As any woman who has ever undergone in vitro fertilization knows, there’s a lot to consider before choosing IVF. As more and more women decide to undergo the procedure, we at the Palm Beach Fertility Center want every woman to know as much as possible. In vitro pregnancies can be wonderful, and the best choice for many women, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to have all the facts.
In a recent interview with Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, Goop, Dr. Marcelle Cedars, director of UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health, broke down when it’s a good time for women to consider IVF and what they can expect should they decide to commit to it. Summed up here is a concise version of the most important takeaways from the article.
What Is In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF?
IVF is the process by which eggs and sperm are taken out of the body and combined in a laboratory. There, the fertilized egg is cultured before the embryo is put back in the woman’s uterus.
Whom Does IVF Help?
- IVF was invented in the ‘70s to help women with blocked fallopian tubes.
- Today, IVF can be used to treat virtually any source of infertility.
- Women who have already tried ovulation induction, intrauterine insemination, and surgery without any success are often prime candidates for IVF.
When Should Women Think About IVF?
- Age is an important factor in considering IVF. Egg quality and egg quantity decline as women get older, so for some, there may only be a small window where the procedure is an option. The longer a woman is unfertile, the harder it may be to undergo IVF.
- Women who are under 35 and haven’t been able to conceive within a year should seek a doctor to discuss their own fertility. Women over 35 should seek the opinion of a doctor after 6 months of trying to get pregnant.
- After a month, a doctor will usually be able to tell a woman whether she is fertile or not. After she receives a diagnosis, a woman should then make a treatment plan with her doctor.
- Oftentimes, a doctor will recommend that a woman tries something like artificial insemination after an initial diagnosis of infertility.
- In some cases, a doctor will then recommend that women immediately dive into IVF. This particularly tends to happen in cases where there is a problem with the sperm, the tubes appear to be blocked, or a woman is older and may have limited time to get pregnant.
How Successful Is IVF?
- There are no guarantees with IVF. Depending on a patient’s age, the national success rate tends to vary. In general, women under 35 have a much better chance of success.
- Picking a clinic with a high success rate is important, but again, there are no guarantees. Some clinics will only treat certain patients, skewing the results to give them an unfair statistical advantage. Other women who begin the process don’t end up being candidates for the return of the embryo to the uterus.
What Should You Be Prepared for with IVF?
During the early “Stimulation” period, the patient takes subcutaneous injections every day, usually over the course of a 10 to 14-day block of time. During this period, the patient should also be prepared for routine office visits, where they will undergo ultrasounds and blood tests. When the ovaries are stimulated during this period, doctors are trying to save eggs that might otherwise have died. If a woman is particularly responsive during this period, she should prepare to have an estrogen cycle potentially 10x higher than during a normal menstrual cycle. Short-term breast sensitivity, bloating, abdominal pain, and extra moisture in the vaginal area are not uncommon.
Maturation and Retrieval
During the “Maturation and Retrieval” period, an ultrasound is taken to look at blood and estradiol levels. After this, the patient is given a “trigger shot,” to encourage the egg’s last period of maturation. After this, the eggs are retrieved. The doctor looks through an ultrasound while a needle is inserted through the wall of the vagina into the ovary. Patients are sedated or given anesthesia for this part, which usually lasts no more than 30 minutes. There is a small risk of infection and bleeding during this step, with a minute possibility of complications in the bladder and the bowel. Serious infection is rare.
Fertilization and Transfer
Sperm samples are usually retrieved from male partners on the same day the doctor collects the egg. Freezing sperm ahead of time is also possible. Then comes the fertilization period, in which the egg and sperm are combined in a lab. Usually, results for this step only take a day. After a patient is told how many of their eggs fertilized, they will choose whether to freeze, transfer, or grow the embryo. Transferred embryos are screened for genetic anomalies, while embryos that go to a lab will be cultured for 3-5 days. If a patient isn’t transferred the embryo, she should expect to get her period around 10 days after the egg was retrieved. There may be a bit of bloating during her subsequent menstrual cycle.
What Else Should You Know About IVF?
- Research indicates that risk of serious diseases, like cancer, does not increase with IVF.
- The age of the male partner may also help determine the success of the procedure. Prolonged exposure to heat may also influence the effectiveness of the man’s sperm in the procedure. Like women, it’s important for men to be healthy and avoid excess drug and alcohol consumption should they opt to participate in IVF.
- Scientists are working on a form of IVF which would allow women to carry cultured eggs and sperm in the vagina, before the embryos are then removed and transferred to the uterus.
We still have a long way to go with IVF, and a lot to learn before the procedure can be improved. For women who have considered all the risks, rewards, and details, in vitro fertilization remains a valid way of conceiving.
Thinking about IVF? Have other fertility concerns? Call the Palm Beach Fertility Center at (888) 819-5177 or request an appointment here.