If you are seeking intervention for your ongoing infertility issues, then chances are you will have already heard of In Vitro Fertilisation – or IVF. One of the most widely known and successful treatments to help a woman or couple conceive, IVF has led to an estimated eight million births worldwide since its first success back in 1978.
But exactly what does it entail? As each cycle can take three to six weeks, we take a step-by-step look at the IVF timeline to discover just what happens during IVF treatment.
STEP ONE: Suppressing the natural menstrual cycle
It may sound a little counter-intuitive, but IVF treatment starts by suppressing a woman’s natural menstrual cycle using medication or a nasal spray for around two weeks.
The reason this happens is that it gives the doctor control over your cycle and can also help to reduce the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
STEP TWO: Stimulating egg supply
Once the natural cycle has been suppressed, the patient will be given a fertility hormone called FSH, or follicle stimulating hormone. This is in the form of a daily injection, which the woman administers to herself, for around 10-12 days. FSH effectively increases the number of eggs produced by the ovaries, giving the IVF treatment a greater choice of fertilised eggs for implantation. The fertility clinic will closely monitor the patient during this stage, with ultrasound scans and blood tests.
Then, around 34-38 hours before the eggs are to be collected, a final hormone injection will be given to support the eggs to mature.
STEP THREE: Egg retrieval
Stage three sees the retrieval of the eggs, while the patient is under sedation, using a special needle that is guided by ultrasound to pass through the vagina and into the ovary and carefully ‘suction’ out the eggs, one at a time. An average of 10-20 eggs are collected during the retrieval process.
At the same time, your partner will be asked to provide a sperm sample, if you are not using a donor. The sperm will then be put through a spin process to wash the sperm and find the healthiest ones, ready to use for fertilisation.
STEP FOUR: Fertilising the eggs
Now the IVF treatment process moves on to fertilising the collected eggs, in vitro, or outside of the body, ie. in a laboratory. In some cases, this fertilisation may need to be done using ICSI – or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection – which involved injecting each egg individually with a single sperm. After around 16 hours, the eggs are checked to see if any have successfully fertilised. The fertilised eggs will then be allowed to grow in the lab for up to six days before the best one or two are chosen for implantation.
STEP FIVE: Embryo transfer
The woman will then be given hormones containing progesterone to help prepare the uterus lining ready for the embryo to implant. Using a catheter, a doctor will transfer the embryos, in hope that at least one will successfully implant. The woman will continue to take the progesterone for around two weeks, to give the embryo every chance to take hold inside the womb. It is now a short waiting game.
STEP SIX: Finding out the result
Two weeks after the implantation, a pregnancy test will be conducted, either via a straightforward urine test or a more accurate blood test. If the test is positive, the woman will be advised to continue to take the progesterone medication for another couple of weeks to give the embryo the very best chance to gestate into an eventual live birth.
However, IVF treatment is not guaranteed, and the parents-to-be may need to go through several cycles in their bid to have a baby.