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What is IVF?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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IVF is an acronym for in vitro fertilization. This essentially means that meeting of egg and sperm that result in a fertilized egg or embryo occur in a laboratory instead of as pregnancy would occur under natural circumstances. This method is used in human populations when women and their partners are having difficulty conceiving by natural means, and usually only after other methods have been tried. It is by far one of the most expensive ways to conceive a child, and it is not always successful.

There are several steps to IVF for humans. Medications are given to women to induce ovulation and eggs are then collected. Some women may use eggs they don’t produce, which are called donor eggs and come from someone else. Once the eggs are harvested, sperm is collected or donor sperm is used. The eggs and sperm are then introduced to each other, usually in things like Petri dishes. Doctors choose the healthiest appearing embryos and reintroduce these into a woman’s uterus, via the cervix. Usually several fertilized eggs are introduced, to increase chances of implantation of at least one of the embroyos.

Overall, the rate of pregnancy from a single IVF procedure is anywhere from 30-50%, and women younger than 40 tend toward the higher end of this pregnancy rate. Many people say that it takes an average of three attempts or cycles before pregnancy is achieved. In some cases, it may take more cycles, although some women will get pregnant on the first or second try.

The success rate of IVF appears to have increased as scientists have continued to perfect this method. It is not without problems, however. One issue is that multiple births are much more common, and introducing numerous embryos can result in births of triplets, quadruplets or even more babies. This is a significant risk for the children and the pregnant mother, and some people opt for selective reduction or abortion of some of the embryos in order to reduce this risk. Yet others find this process morally repugnant and would not consider it, even if carrying multiples above two heightens health risks.

Children conceived through IVF also have a higher risk of certain birth defects. They may be prone to heart defects, especially those along the heart’s septum which are often called “holes” in the heart. Greater risk of cleft lip and cleft palate is also present.

For some people, IVF is too expensive to try. It is not uncommon in the US for a single attempt to cost between $10,000-15,000 US Dollars (USD). Multiple attempts may easily exceed the means of many people who would like to conceive children. Alternately, some people do not view this method as a moral way of conceiving. Many religious groups are opposed to the practice, including the Roman Catholic Church. Some people don’t oppose the practice, but are deeply concerned about what happens to leftover embryos that aren’t implanted. As of 2009, those that would be discarded and to which no one claims rights, may be used in the US in scientific research or to generate stem cells.

People may not always discard extra embryos. They can pay to have them frozen and banked for use at a later point. Storage costs may average a couple hundred to about $1000 USD per year.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By werterful — On Feb 04, 2014
The cost of IVF can be very expensive. Most couples spend an average of $19,234 out of pocket on the treatment. A story in the New York Times discussed a couple who had gone $40,000 into debt and lived in a one bedroom apartment after going through three cycles of IVF just to have one baby. A cheaper IVF method is being developed in Britain that costs less than 1,000 pounds.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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