In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a medical and surgical procedure that involves fertilizing the egg outside the woman’s body and transferring the resulting embryo back into the woman’s body. The procedure is a multi step process requiring medications to stimulate egg production in the ovaries, minor surgical procedures to retrieve the eggs and implant the embryo, and clinical monitoring by the fertility doctor throughout the process.
IVF is done over a period of two to four weeks. The duration of the IVF is called a cycle. For many women, one cycle of IVF may not be enough to successfully have a baby. The success rates of IVF vary depending on multiple factors (i.e. age and medical history) but the average number of IVF cycles needed before a successful birth is about three.
The Basic IVF Cycle
The basic IVF cycle is composed of ovarian stimulation, retrieval of the matured eggs (aka oocytes), fertilization of the eggs, and the transfer of the embryo into the uterus.
Women naturally produce one mature egg during their monthly menstrual cycle. However for IVF, the procedure requires multiple mature eggs to increase the chances of successful fertilization and developing into healthy embryos. Ovarian stimulation is used to stimulate the ovaries to increase the number of mature eggs produced. This is done by administering reproductive hormones to the patient. These hormones are typically given as daily subcutaneous injections at home. During this time, the doctor monitors the development of the oocytes via ultrasound to determine when the eggs are mature for retrieval.
Once the eggs are matured, the retrieval procedure begins. The retrieval of mature eggs involves a minor surgical procedure with anesthesia where the fertility doctor will use a medical device to retrieve the mature eggs from the ovaries.
After the eggs are extracted, they are immediately transferred to the lab, processed, and fertilized with the partner’s sperm by the embryologist. About three to five days after fertilization, the embryologist determines which embryos are the best suited for transfer into the woman’s uterus.
The last step in IVF is to transfer the embryo into the woman’s uterus for implantation. This involves a short, minor surgical procedure where usually one or two of the best quality embryos are inserted into the uterus. After the transfer, the embryos implant itself to the uterus and the pregnancy is underway.
As one can imagine in a complex procedure like IVF, the cost of undergoing a cycle can be expensive. Many times, insurance only partially covers or does not cover the procedure at all. The cost of IVF will vary depending on many factors (i.e. the clinic, geographic location of the clinic, diagnostic tests) but the average total cost including medications in the US is between $20,000 and $25,000 per IVF cycle. As most women will undergo multiple cycles of IVF, the cost can quickly climb.
IVF can be an expensive and challenging procedure to go through but for many infertile couples, this provides the best possibility for conceiving their own child.