What is IVF?


IVF basically stands for 'in vitro' which means 'in glass' and essentially means a man's sperm is added to his partner's eggs in a laboratory so that fertilisation happens in controlled conditions outside of the body. IVF is an option for many couples who are finding it difficult to conceive naturally. The fertilised embryos are then put back into the woman's uterus where the pregnancy will hopefully continue.

There are a series of complex steps, which have to be carried out in order for IVF to be successful.

Harvesting your eggs

The first step is harvesting your eggs. Your ovaries normally release only one egg each month but your ovaries will be stimulated with a drug treatment so they produce more then one egg. This is so you have more then one chance of a successful pregnancy. You will need to go into the clinic everyday so as the eggs mature they can be monitored. When ovulation is imminent, the eggs will be collected under ultrasound or laparoscopic guidance ready for fertilisation by your partner’s sperm.

The next step is when your eggs are mixed with your partner’s sperm outside of the body, under a microscope. Not all your eggs will fertilise but roughly two or three do. Fertilized eggs are incubated for about 48 hours until the cells start to divide, and as long as they show no signs of abnormalities a maximum of three embryos will be transferred to your uterus. Any additional embryos that have fertilised can be frozen for future use in case this attempt is not successful. Since a ruling in 1994, women over 40 can still receive three eggs per cycle, because success rates decrease with age. Women under 40 can only receive two eggs per cycle; this is to reduce the growing incidence of multiple births and the complications that can arise with them.
After about two weeks you can take a pregnancy test to see if the attempt has been successful.

How long will this take?

You will complete your cycle of IVF from beginning to end in around six weeks, and you will need to visit the clinic roughly 11/12 times for egg retrieval, fertilisation procedures and for transferring the eggs back into your uterus.

Can anyone have IVF?

Not everyone can have IVF on the NHS, so it is best to check with your GP about IVF funding in your area. If you are not eligible for IVF or the waiting lists are too long, you can have self-funded IVF.

How much does IVF cost?

The cost of IVF cycles varies greatly depending on where you have the treatment and how many cycles you have but can cost anywhere between £2,000 to £7,000.

IVF sucess rates

The success rates of couples going through the IVF process rely on the age of the woman and ont he age of the eggs involved in the process (they can be donated eggs). Other factors include the health of the woman, how long the couple have been infertile and the health of the uterus. Current figures show the success rates from 2005 and are based on 41,932 cycles of treatment given to 32,626 between January and December 2005.

  • The overall birth rate for this period for all IVF births was 21.6 per cent, meaning it rose by 0.9 per cent from 2004.
  • The number of sperm donors continues to rise with 307 new donors registering in 2006 - up 19 per cent from 2005.
  • 606 births saw a total of 645 children born following donor insemination.
  • 9,058 births saw a total number of 11, 262 children born following IVF treatment. (Bear in mind that many IVF treatments produce multiple births)

Thanks to the HFEA

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