In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

Definition - What does In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) mean?

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the process of collecting a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm and combining them in a lab in order to fertilize the egg and create an embryo. The embryo is then transferred to the woman’s uterus, where it hopefully implants within the uterine lining and leads to pregnancy. IVF is a common treatment for infertility.

FertilitySmarts explains In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

IVF is a form of assisted reproductive technology (ART). The process is used to circumvent a variety of infertility causes that otherwise prevent a woman from conceiving. IVF may also be used to reduce the likelihood of passing certain genetic disorders to the child.

There are five steps that make up one cycle of IVF. The entire process takes about two weeks.

Step 1: Egg Development

Fertility drugs, medications to enhance egg production, are provided to the woman. These drugs stimulate the ovaries, which normally produce one egg a month, to produce multiple eggs. While this drug is being taken, doctors closely monitor the woman’s hormone levels for signs that the eggs are maturing properly.

Step 2: Egg Retrieval

A simple surgical procedure removes the matured eggs from the woman’s ovaries. To retrieve the eggs, a needle is inserted through the vagina and into the ovary. A suctioning device then removes the eggs and fluid, one at a time. Imaging from an ultrasound is used as a guide to allow the doctor to see the eggs as they are collected from the ovary.

Step 3: Sperm Collection and Preparation

A semen sample is provided and prepared through a process called sperm washing, which removes the unnecessary fluid and emphasizes the strongest sperm.

Step 4: Insemination and Fertilization

The eggs that were collected are analyzed. The strongest are selected for insemination, the process of mixing the eggs with sperm. In some cases, the sperm may be left to naturally fertilize the egg, but in cases where that may be less likely, the sperm may be injected into the egg, a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Once the egg has been fertilized it has become an embryo.

Step 5: Embryo Analysis and Transfer

For 3-5 days the embryo remains in the lab, undergoing any relevant genetic testing or screening, and growing in size. After that period of time, the embryo is ready for the transfer. The process involves inserting a catheter into the woman’s vagina, through her cervix, and into her uterus. The embryo is then passed through the catheter. Once the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus, a pregnancy has developed.

There are medical risks involved with IVF, particularly with fertility medicines and egg retrieval. Additionally, it is an expensive procedure that requires a significant amount of emotional and physical involvement. Individuals or couples intending to undergo IVF should be prepared for the experience, and have appropriate support and resources planned. Additionally, if multiple embryos are transferred, the chance of multiple pregnancies is present, which increases the risk of premature birth or low birth weight.

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