In Vitro Fertilisation: What is IVF and what does the process involve?

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Created on Oct 19, 2023 · 4 mins read

Most of us have heard of IVF in some way, shape or form. For some, they’ve heard of it but don’t know much about it but for many parents, it’s a lifeline. For those faced with fertility issues, the only option they have to become parents is through IVF.

Those who haven’t been through it, might be thinking about looking into it or are curious to know a bit more about it might be wondering things such as, how does IVF work? And what are the success rates?

In Australia as of 2020 around 1 in 20 babies are conceived through IVF and there have been over 8 million babies born through IVF globally in the last 40 years.

So, what is IVF?

IVF, or In Vitro Fertilisation is a procedure used to help women overcome a variety of fertility issues in order to fall pregnant.  It is when an egg and a sperm are joined together outside of the body, before an embryo (the fertilised egg) is transferred into a woman’s uterus in order for a pregnancy to occur.

IVF is one of the most commonly known forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART)

What happens during the IVF process?

The process of IVF can vary greatly depending on things such as personal circumstances and medical history. In some cases, a donor egg, sperm or embryo may be used or a surrogate may be involved.

The general process of IVF works by using medication combined and surgical procedures in order to bring the sperm together with the egg which will then implant in the uterus resulting in a pregnancy.

Unless the woman is using donor eggs, she will begin by taking either a daily injection or nasal spray which will switch off the menstrual cycle. Following on from this she undergoes Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) injections which are self-administered daily. These injections work to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs which provides a better chance of collecting more eggs.

​​Once the optimum number and size of follicles have been reached the woman will undergo egg collection which is performed during day surgery with either a general or local anesthetic.

An injection of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) will be given in the evening 36 to 38 hours before surgery. This injection works to kick start ovulation.

Following the egg collection, they are injected with the sperm (from either a partner or donor) by an embryologist where they will be placed in an incubator. Typically you will know within the first 24 hours if fertilisation occurs however they will remain in the laboratory for around 5 days but will be earlier in some cases.

Once you have retrieved healthy embryos they will then be inserted into the woman’s uterus via an embryo transfer procedure. This procedure is also performed during day surgery where the embryo is transferred into the uterus via the cervix through a very fine catheter. It is a similar procedure to a pap smear.

If the embryo successfully implants in the uterus a pregnancy will occur. A blood test is usually performed two weeks after the embryo transfer to test for pregnancy.

At-home pregnancy tests are not recommended due to the hormone medication that is administered throughout the IVF process which can alter results.

The remaining healthy embryos can then be frozen and stored for further use.

What is the IVF success rate?

Understanding IVF success rates can be rather confusing. The government has established the website to help provide independent information on fertility data and success rates.

On average, there is around a 1 in 5 chance of having a baby via IVF, however, this does not take into account personal circumstances and medical history.  And the chances decrease as a woman’s age increases. Some women will have difficulty falling pregnant in the first place, and others may fall pregnant quite easily however they struggle to maintain their pregnancies.

IVF is an incredible scientific advancement that has seen millions of parents welcome babies into the world that they might never have had the chance to otherwise. Infertility and conception are incredibly emotional experiences to endure but they also vary according to your personal situation so always speak with your doctor or healthcare provider for specific health advice. Also, be sure to speak with your partner or a friend to share how you are feeling.

For more information on accessing support during IVF and infertility visit COPE

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