In vitro fertilization (IVF) takes the concept of assisted reproduction to a new level by bringing together a woman’s egg with a man’s sperm outside the body so that fertilization occurs. Normally, once this happens, a fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the womb, and will become a baby in nine months. With IVF, the fertilized egg is implanted in the womb.
When is IVF Considered?
IVF helps nature along in cases where would-be parents have trouble conceiving for a variety of reasons:
- Advanced maternal age (considered to be over 35)
- Damaged or blocked Fallopian tubes
- Male infertility
- Unexplained infertility
What Are the Steps of the IVF Process?
The IVF process starts long before the egg is placed back in the uterus, and it consists of a number of steps. Unfortunately, IVF is a very costly procedure. One cycle of IVF can range from $12,000 to $20,000 or more, due to the time involved for many medical professionals to carefully perform each step of the process.
- Superovulation or stimulation. The woman takes fertility drugs to boost egg production; which usually results in multiple eggs rather than the usual one. She also has several transvaginal ultrasounds to determine the condition of the ovaries, along with blood tests that check hormone levels.
- Egg retrieval. During an outpatient procedure, the doctor takes the eggs from the woman’s body with a procedure known as follicular aspiration. Guided by ultrasound, a thin needle is inserted through the vagina into the ovary and follicles. A suction device attached to the needle pulls out the eggs and fluid from each follicle individually. The process is repeated for each ovary.
- Insemination and fertilization. After selecting the best quality eggs, the doctor will mix the eggs with the man’s sperm, which is called insemination. The egg and sperm are stored in an environmentally- controlled chamber where fertilization occurs to one or more eggs a within a few hours of insemination. In some cases, the doctor may insert the sperm directly into the egg to improve the chances of fertilization, which is called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
- Embryo culture. When the fertilized egg begins dividing cells, it is considered an embryo; after five days, several cells are actively dividing, under the careful supervision of laboratory staff. About three or four days after fertilization, many couples choose to do preimplantation genetic diagnostic (PGD) testing, which examines a cell from each embryo to determine if there are genetic disorders before implementation.
- Embryo transfer. About 3 to 5 days after fertilization, the embryo is placed in the mother’s womb during a procedure in the doctor’s office in hopes it will attach to the lining of the womb to achieve pregnancy. The physician inserts a thin catheter holding the embryos into the woman’s vagina through the cervix and up into the womb. Often multiple embryos are placed in the uterus in hopes that at least one survives. This sometimes results in multiple births, but doctors determine the number of embryos to place based on factors such as the woman’s age. Embryos that were not implanted can be frozen for later use.
After implantation, the mother should rest for the rest of the day and then resume normal activities. About 10 to 12 days after the procedure, the patient will return back to the fertility clinic for a pregnancy test. Hopefully she will leave with the happy news that she is in fact pregnant.
Take the Steps Toward Parenthood
The process of IVF may be involved, but for most would-be parents experiencing trouble conceiving, it is all worth it. If you are interested in exploring whether IVF is a solution for you, contact Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center.