What is IVF?
In-vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a type of assistive reproductive technology (ART). The IVF procedure involves retrieving eggs from a woman’s ovaries and artificially fertilizing them with the man’s sperm. The fertilized egg is known as an embryo. It is transferred to the woman’s uterus. A complete cycle of the IVF procedure takes about three weeks. In some cases, the procedure is split into different steps and may take more time.
IVF is usually performed to assist with fertilization. Depending on your condition, the IVF procedure may use:
- Donor egg and donor sperm
- Donor egg and your partner’s sperm
- Your egg and donor sperm
- Your egg and your partner’s sperm
- Donated embryo
How is IVF carried out?
The IVF procedure is done in five steps:
- Egg retrieval
- Embryo culture
- Embryo transfer
A woman produces one egg every month. However, the IVF procedure requires multiple eggs. It helps increase the chances of fertilization of the eggs with the sperm. If you opt for IVF, the doctor will give you fertility drugs to increase the production of eggs by the ovaries. During this period, the doctor will perform regular ultrasound tests and blood tests to monitor the production of eggs. This will help the doctor understand when to retrieve the eggs for IVF.
Follicular aspiration, also known as egg retrieval, is a surgical procedure performed under anesthesia. The doctor inserts equipment with a needle through your vagina and into the ovary. The needle will be guided inside the follicle that contains eggs. The doctor will retrieve eggs and fluids from each follicle.
A semen sample will be collected from the male partner or the donor. The eggs and sperms will be mixed to fertilize.
The doctor will monitor the fertilized eggs to make sure they develop properly. At this time, certain tests may be performed to check for genetic disorders.
The embryo can be transferred to the uterus once it is big enough. This is usually done after four to five days of fertilization. The doctor will use a thin tube called a catheter to place the embryo into the uterus. Pregnancy takes place when the embryo implants itself on the uterine wall. This usually takes about a week after the implantation. The doctor will confirm the pregnancy with a blood test.
Why is IVF performed?
The IVF procedure is performed to treat infertility and genetic conditions. If you and your partner opt for IVF, you can try less invasive treatment options before attempting IVF.
The less invasive treatment options include fertility drugs to increase egg production in the female or intrauterine insemination, where sperms are placed directly inside the uterus during the time of ovulation.
In some cases, women above the age of 40 years opt for the IVF procedure to treat infertility. IVF can also be used in certain health conditions that make conceiving a child difficult for you. Usually, IVF is performed if you or your partner suffer from the following conditions:
- Ovulation disorders.
In such disorders, ovulation is absent or infrequent. Fewer eggs are available for fertilization, which makes conceiving difficult.
- Fallopian tube blockage or damage.
A blockage or damage to the fallopian tube may make it difficult for the eggs to fertilize or the embryo to travel to the uterus.
- Uterine fibroids.
Fibroids are benign tumors that develop inside the uterus. The tumors are common among women aged above 30 years. The fibroids may interfere with the implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall.
It occurs when the uterine tissue starts growing outside of the uterus. Endometriosis may affect the function of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the uterus.
- Impaired sperm production or function.
Poor sperm mobility, below-average sperm concentration, or abnormalities in the size and shape of sperm can make it difficult for fertilization to take place.
- Genetic disorder.
If there are risks of either you or your partner passing genetic disorders to the embryo, the IVF procedure can be performed. After the egg and sperm are fertilized, the embryo is screened for possible genetic disorders. However, not all genetic disorders can be detected in the screening process. If no possible disorders are found, the embryo is transferred to the uterus.
- Previous tubal removal or sterilization.
If you have had previous surgeries for the removal or blockage of both the fallopian tubes, the IVF procedure can be done to bypass the function of the tubes .
- Unexplained infertility.
In some cases, the doctor may not be able to find any explainable causes of infertility. An IVF procedure can be helpful in such cases.
If you are suffering from any of these conditions and want to conceive a child, visit a doctor for medical assistance.
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What are the risks associated with IVF?
As with any medical procedure, there are certain risks associated with IVF as well. These include:
- Multiple births.
In some cases, more than one embryo gets transferred to the uterus. A pregnancy with multiple embryos comes with a higher risk of low birth weight and early labor.
- Ectopic pregnancy.
In around 2% to 5% cases of IVF, women experience an ectopic pregnancy. It is a condition where the embryo implants itself outside of the uterus, mostly in the fallopian tube. It is difficult for the embryo to survive outside the uterus.
Some studies suggest that there may be a link between the medications used for stimulating egg production and ovarian tumors.
The results of the IVF procedure
Around two weeks after transferring the embryo to the uterus, your doctor will do a blood test to confirm the pregnancy.
If you get pregnant, the doctor will refer you to a pregnancy specialist for prenatal care.
If you do not get pregnant, it is likely you will get your period within a week. If you do not get your period and experience unusual bleeding, immediately contact your doctor. If you wish to try the IVF procedure again, the doctor will suggest steps you can take to improve your chances of getting pregnant in the second attempt.
Deciding whether to undergo the IVF procedure can be a complicated decision. The physical, emotional, and financial toll of the procedure can be exhausting. Before you decide to go for IVF, have a detailed conversation with your doctor about all the options available for conceiving a child. Considering factors like your age and health, the doctor may be able to determine the best option for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Is IVF painful?
During the egg retrieval procedure, the doctor will give you pain medications so you will not feel any pain at all. After the procedure, you may experience mild discomfort and pain. It can usually be treated with over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen.
2. What is the best age to undergo IVF?
Usually, IVF is more successful in women in their 20s or early 30s. Once a woman reaches her mid-30s, the success rates of IVF start decreasing.
3. Are IVF babies normal?
IVF babies are born absolutely normal. The vast majority of studies to date indicate that infant development is normal in children conceived through IVF. The major risk factor in infant developmental problems is due to premature delivery more common in multiple pregnancies (twins etc.).
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