IVF literally means that fertilization of the woman’s egg happens outside of the human body, as compared to natural conception where the sperm fertilizes the eggs in a woman’s womb.
Since the sperm and egg meet outside of the body, the IVF process will consist of steps taken to retrieve the egg from the woman and the sperm from the man before sperm and egg meet in a test-tube for fertilization to happen. Here’s what a couple goes through during an IVF process:
Each IVF cycle lasts for around 10-12 days, from the first injection to the retrieval of eggs. The collected eggs and sperms are then collected and fertilised in an IVF laboratory by an embryologist. These embryos are then grown for 5 days, during which the abnormal or unhealthy ones are weeded out. An embryoscope may be used to create a time-lapse video over these 5 days to monitor the development of the embryos in the IVF laboratory.
The selected embryos are then frozen, before being transferred back into the woman’s womb 1-2 months later. The woman will need to take hormone tablets daily before the transfer is performed.
2 weeks after the transfer of the embryo into the woman’s womb, a pregnancy test will be done to check if the woman has successfully conceived.
The success rates of IVF range between 50-60%. In recent years, freezing the embryos before putting them back into the woman’s body has been found to increase success rates of IVF. The underlying theory is that embryos that have survived the freezing process are more resilient and therefore have a higher chance of resulting in pregnancy. Transferring frozen embryos is now commonly practised by many IVF clinicians.
Not more than 3-4 IVF cycles are required, in fact, on average, most couples get pregnant in less than 3 cycles.
As mentioned earlier, each IVF cycle includes the retrieval of eggs for fertilization. Depending on your age, one IVF cycle typically produces multiple embryos, good enough for 2-3 transfers. If the first transfer of embryo is unsuccessful, the remaining embryos can be used for subsequent transfer(s) without having to repeat the IVF cycle. This definitely helps make things easier for the woman.
With each repeated IVF cycle, the challenge to get pregnant increases. However, if IVF fails persistently, the gynaecologist will need to conduct further assessment to determine the causes. Other times, there could also be instances of early miscarriage, which could be due to a variety of factors.
There is a specialized group of gynaecologists, who are IVF-accredited, who can perform IVF for you. These gynaecologists have gone through rigorous training and are mandated to perform a stipulated number of IVF procedures under supervision before they are accredited as IVF clinicians.
However, the fertility journey does not start with IVF. These fertility specialists will conduct a detailed fertility assessment to determine the causes of infertility before recommending the most suitable fertility treatment option unique to your condition. Always keep an open mind and most importantly, seek help early to maximize your chances at pregnancy.