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What exactly is IVF? 3 facts you should know

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

IVF meaning - What does IVF stand for?

The Definition of IVF

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a medical treatment used to help couples conceive if they can’t conceive by natural means i.e., by unprotected sexual intercourse. In-vitro means ‘inside the glass’ so IVF involves combining eggs and sperm in a petri dish in a laboratory to achieve fertilisation.

Whilst IVF involves obtaining a sperm sample and a number of eggs by the clinical embryologist in the laboratory. There are several steps that must be undertaken to prepare obtain the eggs and sperm before the IVF laboratory process as well as steps after the laboratory process.

Having information about the success rates and alternative treatments can also be important to help you understand the right treatment for your particular situation.

So, in the next few blogs, we’ll be discussing IVF in more detail as well as other fertility treatments.

Subscribe to Your Trusted Squad to be notified by email when our blogs are published. You can also download our free guide to help you prepare for the first fertility consultation that you have with your GP if you have been trying to conceive for over 6 or 12 months.

For now, here are 3 facts that you should know about IVF.....

Fact 1: Having IVF treatment isn't easy. It can affect your physical, emotional and financial wellbeing.

So be aware of this and get as much support as you can, as early on as you can.

Let me explain.

One full treatment of IVF is called an IVF cycle. A cycle of IVF treatment involves ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, IVF (the fertilisation process) and embryo transfer. These processes will be explained in more detail in the next blog.

A full cycle can take between 3-6 weeks. During a cycle you will have to inject yourself with various hormonal drugs or your partner may have to perform the injections. You will have to attend clinics during the cycle for blood tests and ultrasound scans. The frequency of these visits could be once a week but may be as frequent as every 1-2 days depending on your treatment protocol and need for monitoring. You may experience side effects from the drugs which can include nausea, tiredness, bloating, weight gain.

You will be sedated for the egg retrieval process. During the cycle, you may experience ups and downs depending on whether progress is good or slow.

After the embryo or blastocyst transfer, you will have to wait two weeks before you perform a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not you are pregnant. The two-week period can feel like a long time and you may experience symptoms during this time and wonder whether they are significant or normal. In this blog, you can find out more about the process of conception and how embryos and blastocysts develop. More resources are available at the end of this article.

An IVF cycle can be cancelled at any time if the process isn’t working according to plan e.g., if your ovaries are not responding to drugs or if the doctor cannot retrieve any eggs. Regretfully this means you could pay thousands of pounds and not even get the chance to transfer any embryos.

Many women who do not conceive and become pregnant, feel a sense of loss. Like they have lost a baby.

Repeating the IVF cycle more than once can also be stressful and frustrating. For those who are self-funding, IVF treatments are expensive. For many couples, the cost of IVF is a significant barrier that stops them from seeking infertility treatment and for other couples the cost limits the number of attempts at IVF.

The emotion experienced during the treatments can affect energy levels, mood, relationships with friends, family and partners. The side effects from the treatments can affect the ability to be as resilient as you would normally be and add to the strain you already feel. The administration required in organising transport, appointments, social and work life can add to the burden of stress.

All of the above are just some of the reasons why look after your health and getting support during IVF treatments can be so crucial. Support can be from friends and family, from health professionals such as counsellors, from support groups online or in person or from the fertility concierge service from Your Trusted Squad.

Fact 2: Receiving IVF treatment does not guarantee that you will become pregnant or have a healthy baby.

If IVF is performed with your own eggs, then success rates diminish as you get older. IVF does not reverse or solve the decline in fertility due to your increasing age.

However, the chances of success with IVF can be significantly increased by using eggs from a younger female donor.

In 2018, figures from the HFEA showed the birth rates per embryo transferred below:

  • For every 100 embryo transfers in patients under 35 years of age, using their own eggs, 31 babies were born (31%).

  • For every 100 embryo transfers in patients between 40-42 years of age, using their own eggs , 11 babies were born (11%).

  • For every 100 embryo transfers in patients 43 years of age and older using their own eggs , less than 5 babies were born ( less than 5%).

Using donor eggs can more than double the chances of success in patients aged 35 or more.

The success rates of IVF in the UK show that across all patients who received IVF, the birth rate per embryo transferred was above 20% (more than 1 birth for every 5 embryos transferred) on average for the first three cycles. To explain further the figures demonstrated that in 2018:

  • For every 100 embryos transferred into patients during their first cycle, just over 26 babies were born.

  • For every 100 embryos transferred into patients during their second cycle, just over 24 babies were born.

  • For every 100 embryos transferred into patients during their third cycle, 21 babies were born.

The rates steadily decreased with each new cycle as the patient's age increases and from the fourth cycle onward there were fewer than 1 baby born for every 5 embryos transferred (i.e. less than 20%).

Fact 3: IVF is not always the first treatment available for infertility.

The treatment of infertility should depend on the results of your investigations and whether an underlying cause of infertility has been found.

Causes may be related to the male, female or both. However, a cause may not be found; this is called 'unexplained infertility'.

Treatments that may be more appropriate or tried initially include changes to diet (e.g., weight loss or stopping alcohol intake), surgery (male or female or both), drugs to induce ovulation (if you are not ovulating at all or ovulating infrequently), drugs to treat hormone conditions or intra-uterine insemination (IUI). These will be discussed in future blogs xx

Additional Resources

Fertility Network UK. Fertility Network UK provides free and impartial support, advice and information for anyone affected by fertility issues.

BICA: The British Infertility Counselling Association. BICA is a registered charity and the only professional infertility counselling Association recognised by the British Fertility Society in the UK.

HFEA: The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The HFEA is a government regulator responsible for making sure fertility clinics and research centres comply with the law. HFEA is also provides free, impartial information for patients on fertility clinics and fertility treatments.

BFS: The British Fertility Society. The BFS is dedicated to promoting expert medical practice based on scientific evidence. This link takes you to their public information page.


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Is it taking longer than you hoped to get pregnant? Have you been assessed by your GP?

Written by GP, Dr Belinda Coker, our free guide will help you prepare for the fertility assessment consultation with your GP.



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