In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) 101

In Vitro Fertilization: Offering Hope to Infertile Couples

For couples who have experienced difficulty in conceiving naturally or through artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can offer hope for conceiving a child of their own. The first baby successfully conceived and delivered through IVF was born in 1978; by 2006, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology estimated that over three million children had been born via IVF and related assisted reproductive techniques. That number continues to increase each year as more couples and their doctors choose this advanced method for addressing infertility problems.

IVF basics
Essentially, IVF techniques combine eggs and sperm in a controlled laboratory environment outside the woman’s body. Eggs are extracted from the mother’s body through a process that includes ovarian stimulation to increase the production of mature eggs and a surgical procedure to extract the eggs after they reach optimal maturity. Sperm from the father is also collected and tested and the fertilization process is carried out in the laboratory as quickly as possible to ensure maximum viability. The resulting zygotes are allowed to mature into embryos under close medical supervision. The viability of these embryos is tested and graded before they are selected and inserted through a thin medical catheter into the uterus. Each round of insertion is referred to as a cycle; the success rate for IVF procedures varies depending on the age of the mother.

Success rates for IVF
For women under 35, the average success rate for each cycle of IVF is around 30%. Success in IVF refers to live birth, rather than simple implantation of the embryo, so this is an impressive endorsement of IVF for younger women. The average success rate for each cycle decreases with increasing age to well under 10% for women over 40 years of age. Most women require more than one cycle of treatments in order to become pregnant.

Egg donors and IVF success
Older women sometimes have greater success with IVF by using eggs from a younger donor rather than their own eggs. Younger eggs typically are more viable and have a better chance of implanting successfully after fertilization, so this is an option to help older women successfully experience pregnancy. Egg donors are typically paid for their services, which can add substantially to the overall costs of IVF. Additionally, many women have a strong preference toward giving birth to their own biological children for emotional reasons. As a result, the majority of women who seek IVF treatment choose to use their own eggs for the procedure.

Multiple births and IVF
Typically about half a dozen embryos are inserted at a single time to maximize the chances of implantation and pregnancy occurring. As a result, twins, triplets and other multiples are more common with IVF procedures than with non-assisted pregnancies. Most of the additional risks associated with IVF pregnancies are due to multiple births; miscarriages, low birth weights, placenta previa and other complications are nearly always caused by the presence of more than one child within the uterus during pregnancy.

IVF is not for everyone
IVF is not the method of first resort in treating infertility issues. It is an expensive treatment and usually requires multiple attempts in order to achieve success. Most physicians recommend that couples try to conceive naturally for at least six months to a year before trying more aggressive fertility treatments. Fertility drugs and surgical treatments are often the next steps recommended for couples trying to conceive. Intrauterine insemination can also prove effective in cases where the mucus surrounding the cervical opening is not conducive to sperm passing through easily. Most infertile couples can be helped by these methods. For those who cannot, IVF may be the couple’s best hope for conceiving a child of their own.

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