In vitro fertilisation (IVF), which literally means "fertilisation in glass", refers to assisted reproduction that takes place outside of the body. IVF was originally developed to treat infertility caused by blocked or damaged fallopian tubes. However, IVF is currently used to treat a variety of fertility problems that have not responded to other medical and surgical interventions.
Eggs and sperm are collected and fertilised to form an embryo, which is then transferred to the uterus to continue, hopefully, to pregnancy. IVF is a method that has helped many women to have babies since 1978 when it was first used successfully.
You may have been recommended IVF as your best treatment option if:
There are five basic steps in the IVF and embryo transfer process:
Step 1: Fertility medications are prescribed to stimulate egg production. Multiple eggs are desired because some eggs will not develop or fertilize after retrieval. A transvaginal ultrasound is used to examine the ovaries, and blood test samples are taken to check hormone levels.
Step 2: Eggs are retrieved through a minor surgical procedure that uses ultrasound imaging to guide a hollow needle through the pelvic cavity to remove the eggs. Medication is provided to reduce and remove potential discomfort.
Step 3: The male is asked to produce a sample of sperm, which is prepared for combining with the eggs.
Step 4: In a process called insemination, the sperm and eggs are mixed together and stored in a laboratory dish to encourage fertilization. In some cases where there is a lower probability of fertilization, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used. Through this procedure, a single sperm is injected directly into the egg in an attempt to achieve fertilization. The eggs are monitored to confirm that fertilization and cell division are taking place. Once this occurs, the fertilized eggs are considered embryos.
Step 5: The embryos are usually transferred into the woman’s uterus three to five days following egg retrieval and fertilization. A catheter or small tube is inserted into the uterus to transfer the embryos. This procedure is painless for most women, although some may experience mild cramping. If the procedure is successful, implantation typically occurs around six to ten days following egg retrieval.
The success rate of IVF clinics depends on a number of factors including reproductive history, maternal age, the cause of infertility, and lifestyle factors. It is also important to understand that pregnancy rates are not the same as live birth rates.
You may choose to use donor eggs, sperm, or embryos. However, make sure to talk with a counselor experienced with donor issues. You will want to be informed about various legal issues related to gamete donation including the legal rights of the donor.