IVF Treatment Stage
1 – Ovary Stimulation
In this first stage of IVF treatment, the female partner is given fertility
drugs called gonadotrophins. These are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce
multiple eggs to a set timetable. This process involves around ten days of
injections, with the results carefully monitored via blood tests and
ultrasound. Further drugs are used to prevent natural ovulation before the eggs
Stage 2 – Egg Collection
When the eggs have reached the desired maturity, a final
injection is given to prepare them for harvesting. The next stage of IVF
treatment can then begin, with the eggs collected using an ultrasound-guided
needle that reaches the ovaries via the vaginal wall. This part of the process
takes less than 20 minutes and is usually conducted under local anaesthetic and
Stage 3 – Combining the eggs and sperm
The collected eggs are then cleaned, and the sperm
cleared of inactive or damaged cells, before the two are brought together in a
special culture at a ratio of around 75,000:1. This is then incubated for
around 18 hours to allow fertilisation to take place before fertilised eggs are
transferred to a growth medium until they have reached the 6-8 cell stage. The
resulting embryos are then checked for quality and uniformity of development,
and the best are chosen for implantation. If more quality embryos are produced
than are needed for this cycle of IVF treatment, these can be frozen for future
use, shortening the process for subsequent attempts.
Stage 4 – Embryo implantation
In the UK, just two of the chosen embryos are transferred
back to the uterus. This is done using a fine catheter introduced via the
vagina and cervix. Progesterone is often given to stimulate thickening of the
uterus wall. This increases the chances of a successful embryo implantation.
Stage 5 – Pregnancy test
After two weeks, a standard pregnancy test can be
conducted to assess the result of the procedure, or an ultrasound scan be used
to detect the developing foetus.
Repeating your IVF
If your current cycle of IVF treatment has been
unsuccessful, most clinics would recommend a break of at least a month, and one
normal menstrual cycle, before a further attempt is made. Studies show that
while one in three women will be successful in getting pregnant via IVF
treatment first time around, this increases to one in two by the end of a
second treatment cycle. However, if you have been unsuccessful over three
cycles, then the chances become slimmer, and you may wish to investigate other
routes to starting a family, such as adoption or fostering.
Before you undergo any infertility treatment it is
important to be aware of what is involved emotionally as well as physically.
Most couples come into IVF treatment after a several years of trying to
conceive naturally without success, which can mean they start the process with
high expectations. The stress of then undergoing the ‘unnatural’ process of IVF
treatment, with all its injections and invasive procedures, can become
overwhelming. Repeating IVF two or three times only serves to magnify these
You should also consider what is involved financially.
While every woman between 23 and 39 who has fertility problems should be
offered three cycles of IVF treatment paid for by the NHS, this varies widely
between local health authorities. This situation is not likely to improve as
budgets look set to be cut back further. The alternative of private IVF
treatment costs up to £8,000 per cycle, adding financial pressure and
disappointment to the cocktail of emotions that are already running high.