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Understanding IVF: Overview & Things to Consider

For intended parents who dream of having a child, IVF represents one of the most well-known—but least understood—paths to parenthood. IVF is a complicated process with a lot to know. We’ll walk you through some of the basics below.

What Is IVF?

IVF refers to in-vitro fertilization, a process through which mature eggs are fertilized and then transferred to the uterus of the intended carrier of the child.

IVF may involve the use of an intended parent’s own eggs and sperm or eggs and/or sperm from donors.

How Does IVF Work?

Several steps happen during one cycle of IVF:

  • Eggs are retrieved from the intended mother or donor.
  • The eggs are fertilized in a lab by sperm to create one or more embryos (fertilized eggs).
  • The embryos are monitored as they develop over about 5-6 days.  
  • Any viable embryos are transferred to the uterus of the intended mother or surrogate.

In some cases, eggs and/or embryos may be frozen to use at a later time. Embryos, in particular, may be frozen for optional PGT-A testing (genetic testing prior to implantation).

How Long Does IVF Take?

Because IVF involves a series of medical procedures, it can take some time. You can expect one cycle of IVF will typically last between 4 and 6 weeks.

This length of time accounts not only for egg retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer but also for:

  • The amount of time the intended mother or surrogate needs to take fertility medications prior to egg retrieval.
  • The approximate two-week wait to test for pregnancy.  

Should you elect to genetically test the embryos, this may add more time to the IVF cycle.

What Is the Difference Between IVF & IUI?

IUI (intrauterine insemination) is a simpler procedure than IVF; in fact, it takes only about 10-15 minutes. IUI may be recommended as a first-line option before IVF for intended parents struggling with fertility.

The primary difference between IUI and IVF is where the eggs are fertilized: in IUI, eggs are fertilized inside the fallopian tubes, whereas in IVF the eggs are fertilized in a lab.

During an IUI procedure, sperm is placed directly into the uterus, around the time of ovulation. IUI filters out sperm from seminal fluid and reduces the distance sperm needs to travel to reach an egg, increasing the likelihood of conception. Medications may be used to stimulate egg production prior to the procedure. 

Who Should Consider IVF?

IVF can be a good option for you if (according to Forbes Health):

  • You’ve experienced unexplained fertility or fertility struggles related to:
    • Missing or blocked fallopian tubes.
    • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
    • Male factor infertility. This may refer to low or no sperm or abnormal sperm.
    • Your age. Women over age 35 may experience struggles producing enough healthy eggs to get pregnant.
  • You’ve tried other avenues, such as IUI, without success.
  • You’re in a same-sex partnership or wish to have a child without a partner.

What Are the Side Effects of IVF?

The American Pregnancy Association lists side effects that may arise from both fertility medications used to prepare for IVF, as well as side effects from IVF itself.

Side effects from fertility medications may include:

  • Headache
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Bloating
  • Changes in mood
  • Hot flashes
  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (rare)

Side effects arising after IVF may include:

  • Passing of clear or blood-tinged fluid.
  • Cramping.
  • Bloating.
  • Constipation.
  • Tender breasts.
  • Pelvic pain.
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Fever (over 100.5°).

If you experience any of the serious side effects in bold above, contact your doctor.

How Successful Is IVF?

IVF success rates vary by maternal age. Data show that for patients under 35 using their own eggs, just over half go on to have live single births. Success rates begin dropping incrementally after age 35, and by age 42, just under 4% will birth a single child successfully. 

Older patients may have better chances of success using healthy donor eggs from women under 35. 

How to Get Started with IVF

Before you get started with IVF, there are some things you’ll want to do first, such as make sure you’re as healthy as you can be. If you’re drinking alcohol, smoking, or not at a healthy weight, for example, try to get these things in check before you begin in order to maximize your chances of success.

Also, set your expectations. You may experience some side effects, as well as an array of emotions that can be difficult.

Lastly, consider the cost of IVF. One cycle of IVF can cost as much as $10,000 – $20,000 or more, plus additional fees such as medication, genetic testing, and storage

If you’re considering IVF but don’t know where to begin or how you’ll cover the expenses, we can help. One of our financial advocates can walk you through your financial options so you can achieve your dream of becoming a parent.