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What is in Vitro Fertilization?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 17, 2024
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In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a laboratory procedure in which egg cells are fertilized outside a woman’s body and then transferred to her uterus. Among the first successful IVF procedures are those that produced a child in England in 1978 and another in the U.S. in 1981. Now this treatment is used worldwide in infertility cases when other conception methods have not been successful.

The procedure actually involves several steps that occur over an approximate three week period. All steps are outpatient procedures. The first involves hormonal stimulation of the women’s ovarian follicles, usually consisting of about 10 days of injections. As many as four or five medications are given to the patient during the in vitro process prior to implantation of the egg.

At the proper point in the cycle, prior to ovulation, the physician retrieves egg cells from the ovary in a transvaginal technique. The patient is normally sedated, either consciously or under general anesthesia; the procedure takes about 20 minutes. In the lab, the eggs and the provided semen incubate together for approximately 18 hours. If necessary, an egg is injected with a single sperm. Once fertilized, the egg is placed in a special growth medium, where it remains for about 24 hours or until it has reached a 6 to 8 cell stage.

The highest quality embryos, generally no more than four, are transferred to the uterus by means of a thin, plastic catheter that the physician inserts through the vagina and cervix. During the waiting period to determine whether the embryo has implanted, a woman may receive a hormone, progesterone, to keep the uterus lining thickened. About two weeks after the embryo transfer, a blood test will determine whether the procedure was successful.

The success rate for each in vitro fertilization cycle is around 20 to 30%. Many factors affect its success rates, including patient age, sperm and egg quality, reproductive health, duration of the infertility, and medical expertise. Because multiple embryos are often transferred, the risk of multiple births is the major complication in IVF. Another risk factor is over-stimulation of the ovaries. Although some studies indicate an increased risk of birth defects in children conceived in this way, other studies do not.

Some couples decide to freeze embryos that are generated but not transferred during in vitro fertilization. The embryos can survive in liquid nitrogen. Other couples chose to dispose of any unused embryos.

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Discussion Comments

By anon263428 — On Apr 24, 2012

@anon118372: You can qualify for in vitro fertilization, but if you had miscarriages before it may happen during your pregnancy, so for me, just do the normal process and when you get pregnant, avoid accidents and also avoid dangerous drugs and other risks such as alcohol and smoking.

@mamabunny26 and @mydamonn: From what I have known of in vitro fertilization, both the sperm and ovum are fertilized in a test tube and it is implanted into your uterus but before all that, the doctor must first get an ovum from the woman. But your problem is that you are ligated which means no ovum can get out of your body to be fertilized.

But you can try having a surrogate mother if you would like.

By anon118372 — On Oct 14, 2010

I am 41 years old with no children. I had a miscarriage six years ago. I wonder if I can qualify for in vitro fertilization because I've tried many times to get pregnant again but nothing happens. please help me. --Doris

By mamabunny26 — On Feb 17, 2009

I was wondering I had Tubal Ligation surgery in 2003 and was wanting to see if In Vitro Fertilization could be an option for me if I was ever wanting another child?

By mydamonn — On Nov 21, 2008

I had the tubal ligation surgery just over two years ago. Both my tubes were cut in half and clipped together. Is In Vitro Fertilization an option if I ever decide to get pregnant?

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