How does IVF work?  This was the first question I had when I knew there was as possibility that we would have to do this procedure to conceive.  IVF or Invitro Fertilization basically consists of fertilizing an egg with the male’s sperm outside of the body, and then placing the embryo into the woman’s uterus.  The embryo then has a good chance of implanting and developing into a baby.  At a reputable clinic, IVF does work about 50% of the time in each cycle.

The process of IVF involves four distinct phases.  Once the ovaries are properly suppressed with Lupron injections, the first stage in the process is the stimulation of the ovaries with injectable follicle stimulating hormone.  This will cause multiple eggs to mature on the ovaries, rather than just one.  Throughout this phase of IVF, which lasts anywhere from 8 to 12  days, blood tests and ultrasounds are constantly done to monitor progress.  Once the eggs appear to be ready, the second phase of the IVF cycle.

Phase two of the IVF cycle is the retrieval of eggs.  First a shot of HCG is administered at home by the woman’s partner.  Exactly 34 to 36 hours later the eggs are retrieved while the woman is under sedation in an outpatient setting.  Using ultrasound for guidance a long thin needle is used to extract the eggs through the vagina. If all goes well, multiple mature eggs will be harvested.

The third phase of IVF is the fertilization of the eggs. This takes place in a dish with the male’s sperm.  Generally, embryos are grown in the dish for either 3 days or 5 days.  In the past it wasn’t possible to sustain an embryo in the lab longer than 3 days.  However, current technology can typically sustain the embryo until 5 days, which often has a higher implantation rate and therefore a higher pregnancy rate.

The fourth and final phase in the IVF cycle is the actual placement of the embryos into the woman’s uterus.  This involves drawing the embryos into a plastic catheter and then inserting them through the cervix and into the uterus.  Generally this procedure can cause a bit of cramping, but no anesthesia needs to be used.  Typically progesterone injections are given for the next few weeks, and then a pregnancy test is done at 12 days past insertion of the embryos.