If you want to have a baby but are struggling to get pregnant, IVF is here to help. In fact, it’s estimated that over 5 million babies have been born worldwide thanks to this procedure.
So, what is IVF? IVF stands for In Vitro Fertilisation and it is a type of assisted reproductive technology. For pregnancy to occur, a sperm must fertilise an egg. Put simply, it is a way of facilitating fertilisation outside of the body, in a laboratory dish or test tube.
Each year, over 70,000 IVF treatment cycles are performed in Australia and New Zealand.
What is an IVF treatment cycle?
A typical cycle has several steps:
- Stimulation phase: You’ll self-administer injections for 8–14 days to stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs (rather than one egg as in a normal menstrual cycle). After monitoring your progress via blood tests and ultrasounds, your fertility specialist will tell you when to administer a ‘trigger injection’ to get the eggs ready for retrieval.
- Retrieving your eggs: The fertility specialist will use a needle to collect the eggs from your ovaries, guided by ultrasound technology. The surgery takes 20–30 minutes and you will be given a general anaesthetic, but you do not need to stay overnight in hospital. On average, 8–15 eggs are collected.
- Fertilising your eggs with sperm: In a lab, specially trained scientists prepare the eggs and either place them in a dish with your partner’s (or donor) sperm or inject one healthy sperm into each egg. The fertilised egg becomes an embryo – an unborn baby in the very early stage of development. Not all eggs will be fertilised – some are immature and not suitable for fertilisation and others fail to be fertilised despite the scientist’s attempts.
- Growing your embryos: If fertilisation is successful, the embryo is put in an incubator in conditions that mimic the body to allow it to start growing. Over the next 5–6 days, the embryo will ideally reach the ‘blastocyst’ stage (where around 200 cells start to form a complex structure), at which point it is ready to be transferred into your womb. Unfortunately, not all embryos will survive and be fit for implantation.
- Transferring an embryo into your womb: This is a simple process that takes around 5 minutes. There is no use of anaesthetic and afterwards you are able to get on with your day. The procedure feels similar to a pap smear – the fertility specialist places a fine catheter through your cervix to implant an embryo in your uterus, which will hopefully start a pregnancy.
- Freezing extra embryos: If more than one embryo developed successfully at step 4, there is advanced technology that allows us to freeze the embryo until it may be needed in a subsequent cycle.
- The final blood test: After a two-week wait, you’ll have a blood test to see if you are pregnant. This can be an anxious waiting period, so it’s important to make sure you surround yourself with plenty of support at this time.
What are the success rates for IVF?
It can be difficult to understand the success rates for IVF and to compare these between clinics because of the different ways clinics measure and report their patient outcomes.
Clinics tend to report success rates per cycle. In reality, if you are undergoing IVF, you may need multiple cycles to become pregnant and the more meaningful measure of success is the likelihood of a having a baby from one or more cycles.
A recent study reported IVF success rates based on data from the Australian and New Zealand Assisted Reproductive Technology Database. This database includes information on all IVF cycles performed in the two countries.
After analysing data from over 55,000 women who started IVF treatment for the first time (which included a total of 120,930 cycles), the researchers reported two findings. The first was the live-birth rate after one cycle of IVF – the standard measure many clinics use. The second was the cumulative live-birth rate from up to eight cycles – in other words, how likely it was for a woman to get pregnant from several attempts at IVF.
They found that one-third of women had a baby after one cycle of IVF, and this increased to 54–77% after multiple cycles. Because age has a big impact on how easy it is for women to get pregnant via IVF, they also determined success rates for different age groups. As expected, the rates were higher for women aged 30 or younger – 44% had a baby after one cycle and 69–93% had a baby from up to seven cycles. The rates were the lowest for women aged 40–44, with 11% having a baby after the first cycle, and 21–38% after multiple cycles.
These results show that the chances of having a baby from IVF increase if you have multiple cycles. However, IVF takes a considerable investment in time, energy and money. For some people, it may be feasible to continue with multiple cycles, while for others it won’t. It’s important to remember that every couple is different and your chance of successful IVF will depend on the individual factors specific to you and your partner.
What influences my chances of having a baby through IVF?
Individual circumstances, as well as your choice of fertility specialist and clinic, will play a role in your chance of becoming pregnant through IVF. The main factors that affect your chances are:
- Your age
- Your genetics
- Your fertility history
- Your lifestyle factors (e.g. your weight and whether you smoke)
- The quality of your eggs and the number of eggs recovered in a cycle
- The quality of sperm
- The expertise of the team and the laboratory conditions.
I always undertake a thorough assessment with my patients so that I can explain the success rates, advantages and disadvantages of undertaking IVF specific to them. My patients undergo treatment at Monash IVF in Hawthorn, a world leader in live-birth success rates.
Who can have IVF?
IVF is a treatment option for couples with fertility problems. But it can also be a way for same-sex couples or single women to become pregnant, with the use of donor sperm (something my clinic can help facilitate). Whatever your situation, it’s good to get expert advice as soon as possible to determine the best way to help you conceive.
Looking for an IVF specialist in Melbourne?
If you need help to have a baby, IVF is just one of the fertility treatments I provide for my patients. By booking a consultation, I can thoroughly assess your individual circumstances and discuss the available treatment options with you, whether that be IVF or a non-IVF treatment. Your GP can advise if a referral is the right next step.