Understanding IVF: A Beginner’s Guide to the Process

  • Guides
22 Jun 2024

A way to parenthood

Starting a family can sometimes need a little extra support, whether you’re facing fertility challenges, or you’re a single woman or lesbian couple exploring your options.

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) offers many people a way to become parents. If you’re thinking about IVF, it’s normal to have questions about the process and how to get started.

This guide offers a detailed introduction to IVF, ensuring you understand each step and can make informed decisions throughout the process.

A way to parenthood

Starting a family can sometimes need a little extra support, whether you’re facing fertility challenges, or you’re a single woman or lesbian couple exploring your options.

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) offers many people a way to become parents. If you’re thinking about IVF, it’s normal to have questions about the process and how to get started.

This guide offers a detailed introduction to IVF, ensuring you understand each step and can make informed decisions throughout the process.

What is IVF?

In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) is a major advancement in reproductive medicine, helping people around the world conceive. First developed by Dr Robert Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe, IVF led to the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, on July 25, 1978, in England.

Since then, IVF has made great strides with new technologies like genetic screening and cryopreservation, boosting success rates. Today, IVF is a common solution for many fertility challenges, helping millions achieve their dreams of parenthood.

IVF involves these steps:

1. Hormone treatments stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs.

2. Surgeons retrieve the eggs through a minor procedure.

3. In the lab, the eggs are fertilised with sperm from a partner or donor.

4. The fertilised eggs develop into embryos in a controlled environment.

5. Medical professionals transfer the embryos into the uterus, aiming for a successful pregnancy.

When to consider IVF

Deciding when to consider IVF is a personal choice that varies for everyone. Typically, IVF is considered after other fertility treatments haven’t worked, or if there’s a specific fertility issue like blocked fallopian tubes or severe male factor infertility.

According to Dr. Vladimiro Silva, the Scientific Director of Ferticentro, “a couple should think about fertility treatment if they’ve been trying to get pregnant for over a year without success, or six months if the woman is over 35. It’s important not to waste time, especially if there are known issues like irregular periods or past pelvic infections. Seeking help early can make a big difference.”

IVF can also be the first choice for those without fertility issues but who need donor sperm or eggs, such as single women, lesbian couples, or others for whom natural conception isn’t an option. It’s also an excellent option for those seeking greater control over their pregnancy. For example, couples may need more control for the following reasons:

Timing of Pregnancy: IVF allows precise control over when to attempt pregnancy, which is helpful for women that need to postpone their pregnancy and choose to freeze their eggs. .

Selection and Screening of Embryos: Through techniques like Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) and Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT-A), IVF offers the ability to test embryos for genetic conditions before transfer, which is important for those with a history of genetic diseases or in cases of advanced maternal age (39 or above).

Use of Donor Eggs or Sperm: IVF allows single women, lesbiancouples, or those with fertility issues related to egg or sperm quality to use donor eggs or sperm.

Frozen Embryos: IVF can involve freezing embryos for future use, providing flexibility in planning pregnancies and additional opportunities for conception if initial cycles aren’t successful.

Consulting with a fertility specialist can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation, helping you decide if and when IVF is right for you.

Getting ready for IVF

Before starting your IVF journey, there’s a lot to consider. Proper preparation is crucial and involves several key aspects:

Initial consultations: These discussions with your fertility specialist are essential. You’ll go over your specific needs, evaluate your health and fertility status, and get a clear understanding of the IVF process tailored to you. This is the time to ask questions, express concerns, and gain confidence in your treatment plan.

Comprehensive assessments: Be prepared for a thorough evaluation. For women, this includes blood tests to check hormone levels and ultrasounds to assess ovarian function and uterine health. Men typically undergo a semen analysis to evaluate sperm count, motility, and morphology. These assessments provide critical information to customise your treatment.

Mental and emotional preparation: Fertility treatments can be emotionally challenging, so it’s important to take care of your mental and emotional well-being. Many people find it helpful to talk to a psychologist who specialises in fertility issues. Support groups or counselling can provide a space to share experiences and cope with the stress and emotional ups and downs of the IVF process.

Making lifestyle adjustments can significantly impact the success of your IVF treatment:

Healthy living: Maintaining a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals and engaging in regular exercise can improve your overall fertility. Aim for a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Regular physical activity helps regulate hormones and reduces stress, contributing to better reproductive health.

Smoking and alcohol: Reducing or eliminating smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can enhance the effectiveness of your treatment. Smoking negatively impacts both egg and sperm quality, while excessive alcohol can interfere with hormone levels and overall reproductive health. Additionally, try to minimise exposure to environmental toxins and maintain a healthy weight, as these factors can also influence fertility.

Stress management: Finding ways to manage stress is crucial. Techniques such as yoga, meditation, or even simple hobbies can help you relax and maintain a positive mindset. Consider setting aside time each day for activities that help you unwind.

Medical considerations: Ensure that any underlying medical conditions are well-managed before starting IVF. Conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and hypertension can affect fertility and pregnancy outcomes. Work with your healthcare providers to optimise your health.

Remember, your fertility specialist is there to guide you through each step, helping you make informed decisions and supporting you on your path to parenthood. Taking these preparatory steps can help ensure the best possible outcome for your IVF journey.

The IVF process in more detail

Starting an IVF journey can feel overwhelming, but understanding each step of the process can help ease your mind and prepare you for what’s ahead. IVF involves several carefully timed and monitored stages, each designed to maximise the chances of a successful pregnancy. Here is what you can expect from your treatment:

Hormonal treatment: You will take medications to control the timing of egg maturation and increase the number of eggs produced. This involves giving yourself daily subcutaneous hormone injections for about 10-14 days. Your fertility specialist will regularly monitor your body’s response to the medication with blood tests and ultrasounds to ensure the eggs develop properly.

Egg retrieval: The procedure is usually done under sedation and is quick, typically lasting about 20-30 minutes. Using ultrasound guidance, the doctor inserts a fine needle through the vaginal wall to retrieve the eggs from the ovaries. You can usually go home a few hours after the procedure and do not need to stay overnight in the clinic.

Fertilisation and embryo culture: In the lab, the embryologists fertilise the retrieved eggs with sperm. If sperm quality is a concern, they may use techniques like Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), where they inject a single sperm directly into an egg. The fertilised eggs are then cultured in a controlled environment for several days, allowing them to develop into embryos. Embryologists monitor their growth and select the best quality embryos for transfer. Advanced technologies like the EmbryoScope can be used to enhance this process.

The EmbryoScope is a time-lapse incubator that continuously monitors and records the development of embryos, providing detailed information on their growth patterns, while giving them excellent culture conditions, with parameters like temperature, and medical gases pressure being totally controlled and stable. This helps embryologists to select the most viable embryos for transfer, potentially increasing the success rates of IVF.

Embryo transfer: This straightforward procedure usually doesn’t require sedation. The doctor places a selected embryo into the uterus using a thin catheter. The procedure is quick and usually painless, and you can resume normal activities shortly afterwards.

Luteal phase support: You will take medications like progesterone to support the uterine lining and increase the chances of implantation, starting about 5 days before the embryo transfer. This phase is critical for the success of the IVF cycle and typically lasts about two weeks until a pregnancy test is performed. If you are pregnant, you should keep this medication until 12 weeks of pregnancy, unless told otherwise by your fertility doctor.

Pregnancy test and follow-up: About 10-14 days after the embryo transfer, you will have a blood test to check for pregnancy. If the test is positive, further follow-up appointments will be scheduled to monitor the pregnancy. If it’s negative, your fertility specialist will discuss the next steps and possible adjustments for future cycles.

At each stage of the IVF process your fertility team will closely monitor your progress and provide support and guidance, ensuring you are well-informed and comfortable throughout your IVF journey.

Different approaches to IVF

IVF treatments can be customised to address the unique needs and circumstances of individuals and couples. There are many different approaches to IVF:

IVF with donor sperm: This option is ideal for single women, same-sex female couples, or couples where the male partner has severe male factor infertility. Sperm from a donor is used to fertilise the retrieved eggs.

IVF with donor eggs: This is recommended for women who cannot produce viable eggs due to age, ovarian failure, or genetic conditions. Eggs from a donor are fertilised with sperm from the partner or a sperm donor, and the resulting embryos are transferred to the recipient’s uterus.

IVF with Preimplantation Genetic Testing for Aneuploidies (PGT-A): PGT-A, formerly known as Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS), involves testing embryos for chromosomal abnormalities before they are transferred to the uterus. This process helps identify embryos with the correct number of chromosomes, increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy and reducing the risk of miscarriage.

Reciprocal IVF (ROPA): Reciprocal IVF, also known as ROPA (Reception of Oocytes from Partner) of “shared motherhood”, is an option for same-sex female couples who want to share in the biological aspects of pregnancy. One partner provides the eggs, which are fertilised with donor sperm, and the resulting embryos are transferred to the other partner’s uterus to carry the pregnancy.

IVF with testicular sperm extraction (TESE): TESE is a surgical procedure used to retrieve sperm directly from the testes in men who have no sperm in their ejaculate due to certain conditions. The retrieved sperm is then used to fertilise the eggs through ICSI.

Navigating the emotional landscape of IVF

The emotional toll of IVF can be heavy, deeply affecting both individuals and couples. Many people feel a mix of hope and anxiety, which can be hard to manage. The journey often begins with optimism and excitement but can quickly become stressful as things progress. Waiting for test results, dealing with medication side effects, and facing uncertain outcomes can be very challenging emotionally.

Common emotional challenges:

Stress and anxiety

The anticipation of each step in the IVF process can lead to heightened stress and anxiety. Worries about the success of the treatment, the financial costs, and the impact on personal relationships can weigh heavily.

Emotional ups and downs

The IVF process is filled with highs and lows. From the initial hope and excitement to the potential disappointment of unsuccessful cycles, these emotional fluctuations can be tiring.

Relationship strain

The intense focus on fertility can sometimes strain relationships. Couples may find themselves dealing with different coping mechanisms, communication challenges, and added pressure.

Isolation

The experience of infertility and IVF can be isolating. Many people feel uncomfortable sharing their struggles with others, leading to a sense of loneliness and disconnection.

How to cope: build a strong support network

Partner support

Open and honest communication with your partner is crucial. Sharing your feelings, fears, and hopes can help strengthen your relationship and ensure you are supporting each other effectively.

Family and friends

Letting trusted family members and friends know about your journey can provide additional emotional support. They can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and practical help when needed.

Support groups

Joining a support group for individuals and couples undergoing IVF can be incredibly helpful. Connecting with others who understand what you’re going through can provide a sense of community and reduce feelings of isolation.

How to cope: get professional support

Counselling and therapy

Seeking professional support from a psychologist or counsellor who specialises in fertility issues can be invaluable. Therapy can provide coping strategies, emotional validation, and a safe space to process your feelings.

Stress management techniques

Incorporating stress management techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or acupuncture can help reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being during the IVF process.

How to cope: self-care practices

Physical health

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can positively impact your emotional well-being.

Mental health

Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or taking breaks from the fertility focus, is essential for mental health.

Remember, taking care of your emotional and mental health is just as important as the physical aspects of IVF. Building a strong support network and considering professional support can be invaluable in maintaining your emotional and mental health throughout your IVF journey.

What to expect from IVF success rates

Success rates for IVF can vary widely, influenced by factors such as age, specific fertility issues, and even the clinic chosen. It’s important to have realistic expectations and to discuss these openly with your fertility specialist.

Factors influencing success rates:

How old you are

Age is one of the most significant factors affecting IVF success rates. Generally, younger women have higher success rates because they typically have more and healthier eggs. For women, chances decline after the age of 35 and they fall dramatically after the age of 42. Male fertility also declines with age, but at a lower pace.  

Specific fertility issues

The underlying cause of infertility also plays a crucial role. Conditions such as blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and male factor infertility can affect success rates. Your fertility specialist will consider these factors when determining your likelihood of success.

Previous pregnancy

A history of previous pregnancies, especially with the same partner, can positively influence success rates. It indicates that conception is possible, even if there are current fertility challenges.

Clinic chosen

The success rates of IVF can vary from one clinic to another. Factors such as the clinic’s experience, the technologies they use, and their protocols can impact the outcomes. It’s essential to research and choose a reputable clinic with good success rates and reviews.

Setting realistic expectations:

Discuss with your specialist

Have an open and honest discussion with your fertility specialist about your specific situation. They can provide personalised success rate estimates based on your age, medical history, and fertility diagnosis.

Understand statistics

Understanding that IVF often involves multiple attempts can help manage expectations and reduce emotional distress. Being prepared for potential setbacks, both emotionally and financially, is crucial, as many couples do not achieve success on their first try and may need several cycles.

It’s crucial to understand that success rates are averages and may not predict individual outcomes accurately. Each IVF cycle is unique, and while statistics can provide a general idea, they do not guarantee results.

As Dr. Silva explains,

“Not every egg turns into an embryo because the process is very complicated and has a lot of steps where things can go wrong. Sometimes eggs or sperm might have genetic issues, or the conditions in the body might not be perfect.

“There is a natural attrition rate where not all eggs will fertilise, and not all fertilised eggs will develop into healthy embryos. This is normal, and it happens because humans are not a very fertile species: if a man and a woman, both healthy, fertile and aged 25, try to conceive naturally, their chances of pregnancy are not higher than 25% to 30% per month. So, it is not a surprise to have the same issues while looking at fertility treatments.”

This perspective underscores the importance of patience and persistence throughout your IVF journey.

Clinic success rates:

Advanced techniques

Some clinics, like Ferticentro, offer advanced techniques and technologies, such as time-lapse embryo monitoring (EmbryoScope), Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT), and specialised lab environments, which can enhance success rates.

It is also very important to consider the safety of the process – for example, having an automated sample traceability/witnessing system like we have at Ferticentro can be absolutely critical and provides patients with a level of peace of mind like no other.

Remember, while IVF success rates can provide a helpful guide, everyone’s journey is unique. Working closely with your fertility specialist and maintaining realistic expectations can help you navigate the IVF process with confidence and hope.

Understanding the costs

IVF can be an investment, with costs varying depending on the number of cycles and specific treatments required. Ferticentro offers a transparent pricing policy for various fertility treatments, including IVF, egg freezing, and intrauterine insemination (IUI).

Ferticentro includes advanced technologies and resources like the EmbryoScope, EmbryoGlue and RI Witness System in their packages without hidden fees. At our clinic, patients don’t need to make difficult decisions on whether to take the newest technology or not, as we make that decision on their behalf – and we always decide according to the patients’ best interest.

For detailed pricing, visit Ferticentro’s pricing page

Next steps

Starting IVF is a significant step towards expanding your family. With the right preparation, understanding, and support, you can navigate this journey with confidence and clarity. Remember, each journey is unique, and what works for one couple might not work for another. By staying informed and engaged with your treatment process, you can start your journey with optimism and peace of mind.

Arrange a call

Have questions about fertility treatments or need guidance on your next steps? Call us today to speak with one of our specialists. We’re here to provide the support and answers you need on your path to parenthood.