IVF: In Vitro Fertilization: Definition & Explanation
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- Michael Lee, MS, TS, ELD (ABB)
In vitro fertilization, commonly referred to as IVF, is a laboratory procedure where eggs are fertilized by sperm outside of the womb. During IVF, eggs are retrieved from a woman’s ovaries and combined with a semen sample from the male in a laboratory dish (in order to become fertilized). Once an embryo is created, it is either transferred into the uterus to achieve pregnancy or cryopreserved for future use.
When Is IVF Recommended?
IVF is often used to treat individuals who have blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis-related infertility, inherited genetic diseases, recurrent miscarriages and low sperm count or motility. In vitro fertilization is also used by couples who have tried other fertility treatments without success. Every patient has a unique medical situation.
IVF — Getting Started
If you believe that IVF is right for you, the first step toward getting IVF treatment is to schedule a consultation. During your appointment, you will meet with one of our board-certified fertility specialists, who will help you craft an affordable and effective fertility treatment plan. Our financial counselors will also be available to walk you through our payment plans & insurance options.
IVF — Related Topics
In vitro fertilization is often used in combination with a variety of infertility treatments, such as:
View more infertility treatments »
The IVF Process
IVF can be a challenging step on your journey to parenthood. In order to help you understand what is involved in IVF, we have provided a step-by-step breakdown of the in vitro fertilization process:
Step 1 — Ovulation Induction
Fertility medications are prescribed to stimulate the production of several eggs. Having multiple eggs is advantageous because some will not fully develop or become fertilized after retrieval. Treatments usually begin on the third day of menstruation and consist of about 10 days of injections.
Step 2 — Egg Retrieval
To retrieve the eggs, a hollow needle is inserted through the vaginal wall to remove the fluid in each follicle. If there is a mature egg in the follicle it will be withdrawn along with the fluid. An average number of eggs collected is 10 to 12, but this can vary depending on the specific fertility problems the couple is experiencing. During egg retrieval, patients are given a light sedation and experience little discomfort following the procedure.
Step 3 — Sperm Retrieval
A semen sample is provided by the man, who is asked to refrain from sexual intercourse for several days before retrieval.
Step 4 — Laboratory
The eggs and semen are then prepared in the laboratory clinic for in vitro fertilization. Eggs are identified and examined for maturity while the semen is prepared through a process called sperm washing. During sperm washing, inactive cells and seminal fluid are separated from the sperm.
Step 5 — Fertilization
After preparation is complete, the sperm and eggs are placed into a laboratory dish so that fertilization can take place. They are incubated together for about 18 hours. If the male has low sperm count or low motility, a single sperm may be injected into a single egg, a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). A fertilized egg develops for about 48 hours until it has divided into a six- to eight-cell embryo and is ready for transfer.
Step 6 — Embryo Transfer
An embryologist will examine each of the embryos to determine which is of the best quality. In preparation for embryo transfer, progesterone supplements may be taken. One or more embryos will then be transferred into the woman’s uterus. The embryos are placed in a fluid through a catheter and into the womb. This is often a painless procedure, although it may cause minor cramping.
Step 7 — Follow-Up
The next two weeks involve a lot of waiting and checkup visits with your fertility specialist. Afterward, a blood test is given to determine whether you are pregnant. With expert treatment, attentive care and just a little luck, you will have a positive result. Then it is time to start planning for the new addition to your family!
Possible IVF side effects include multiple births, minor physical discomfort and stress.
Facts about IVF: In Vitro Fertilization
- People often refer to children born through IVF as “test tube babies.”
- The first successful IVF baby was Louise Brown, who was born in 1978.
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