7 Important Facts to Know if You’re Considering IVF

The down-low on getting knocked up.


Krissy Brady |

There’s a lot you need to know before taking the plunge into IVF (in vitro fertilisation)…. like what is it exactly, how does it work and does it affect your health. 

Firstly, fertility treatments like IVF work by bombarding the ovaries with high doses of artificial hormones that stimulate them to release multiple eggs (which are collected, fertilised in a lab, then transferred back into the uterus). Right, get it? So, to help you prepare, here are the most important IVF factoids you can take to the bank.

1. It’s usually not plan A

You might think that if you’re having trouble getting pregnant the logical next step is IVF, when in fact there are a bunch of options in between. “The decision as to whether or not IVF is right for you is based on a thorough diagnostic work-up to determine if it’s the best (or only) option for a couple to achieve pregnancy,” says Dr. Alfred Rodriguez, a medical director of advanced reproductive technology at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.

Your doc will start by collecting a medical and sexual history from both you and your partner, with initial tests that usually include a semen analysis, a tubal evaluation, and ovarian reserve testing. Then, based on what’s contributing to your infertility, how long it’s been going on, and your age, your doc will counsel you about your options—which can also include oral and injectable fertility meds, surgery, intra-uterine insemination (where the sperm is placed directly in your uterus), or IVF. In many cases these treatments are combined.

2. It’s a team effort

If the patient, doctor, and team do a good job at preparing for the IVF cycle, the treatment process should be smooth and painless. “The process involves taking daily injections (over a period of nine to 11 days) to help your body produce multiple eggs, along with periodically monitoring your progress by ultrasound and estrogen levels,” says Rodriguez. The mature eggs are then retrieved from your ovaries, fertilised by sperm in a lab, and implanted in your uterus. One cycle of IVF takes roughly two weeks to complete. “Patients are given one-on-one injection instructions prior to starting medications, as well as printed handouts,” says Rodriguez. “Some medications are injected in the lower abdomen or upper thigh, while others are intra-muscular and are given in the buttocks.” Depending on the medication, your partner or bestie may need to be recruited to help you out, as the injections are time-sensitive and some can be difficult to inject on your own.

3. It’s not cheap

“Individual circumstances, such as age-related fertility problems, can cost more because of increased medication requirements, comprehensive chromosome screening of embryos, and multiple cycle requirements for older couples,” says Rodriguez.

4. The younger you are, the better your odds

“People tend to view IVF as only for older women, when this is not the case,” says Rodriguez. “Fertility problems encompass all age groups, from many different causes. Even young women have a percentage of eggs that are chromosomally abnormal: At 30 years of age, approximately 20 percent of a woman’s eggs are abnormal.” But even though there are other factors at play—such as the specific infertility diagnosis, methods used, and number of eggs frozen—age is still the most important one to consider.

According to the CDC, the success rate for women under 35 years of age is 40 percent, and this rate dips by roughly 10 percent every few years—eventually plummeting to a two percent success rate in women over 44 years of age. “Ideally, age 34 or younger yields the best chance for success with thawing, fertilisation, and subsequent pregnancy,” says Rodriguez. “The top age for most programs can range from age 37 to 40, assuming the patient’s hormone values indicate an appropriate option.”

5. Your lifestyle can affect your pregnancy outcome

Everything from your BMI to how often you exercise to your eating habits can impact the odds of you getting knocked up. “Eating a diet rich in protein and vegetables will improve embryo quality,” says Dr. Wendy Chang, scientific director of the Southern California Reproductive Center. “Additionally, people who drink more alcohol and sleep less have a lower pregnancy rate. Men should also eat a protein-rich diet, limit their alcohol intake, and get plenty of sleep for best pregnancy outcomes.” Talk to your doc before trying to get pregnant so they can help you set up shop for a healthy baby.

6. Side-effects are rare

“All hormone therapy involves some risk, the most serious being the development of blood clots,” says Rodriguez. “However, this is a very rare occurrence.” (Think: less than one percent.) Side effects typically aren’t serious and can range from no side effects at all to mild headaches, breast tenderness, pelvic cramps, and/or lower backaches.

However there is a theory that IVF can increase your cancer risk. Even a single egg breaking through the ovarian wall every month during natural ovulation might theoretically increase cancer risk. Doctors theorised that the more times the body needs to fix such damage (which also occurs after an IVF cycle), the more chances there are for a repair error that could lead to cancer, says gynaecological oncologist Dr Colleen Feltmate. “Another fact that supports this theory is that periods of no ovulation (like pregnancy and being on the Pill) are protective,” adds Prof Hennie Botha, head of the Unit for Gynaecological Oncology at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital.

“It therefore seems logical that increased ovulation during IVF treatment may increase the risk.” A buzzed-about recent study seemed to validate that concern: researchers found that infertile women who’d had one or more rounds of IVF were four times more likely to develop borderline ovarian cancer. The news was terrifying – but a closer analysis revealed the situation is much less scary than it sounds. The elevated risk translates into a 0.4 percent chance of borderline tumours, which represent a different type of cancer, one that’s slow growing and treatable. While borderline ovarian cancer tumours can grow larger than the size of a spanspek and require surgery, they rarely cause serious illness, says Botha.

7. There are no Guarantees

IVF is not successful for the majority of women who try it, but if you don’t get pregnant during the first cycle, it still might be worth giving the process a few more shots. A recent study published in the journal JAMA found that more than 65 percent of the women studied achieved a live birth by the sixth cycle of IVF.

One option you have for future rounds of IVF is freezing your eggs (the same JAMA study found that frozen eggs lead to live births after IVF close to half the time). “Over the last five years, we’ve discovered that freezing the embryos can be associated with better pregnancy rates and birth weight,” says Chang. “Frozen embryo transfer is the new standard of care.” Still, keep in mind that “egg freezing isn’t an insurance policy for the future,” says Dr. Beth Kennard, director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Egg freezing can work, but it only gives you an opportunity to attempt pregnancy; it doesn’t ensure that one will happen.”

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