IVF is an acronym that stands for in vitro fertilization. This is an assisted reproductive technique (ART) that involves several steps, including fertilizing an embryo in a laboratory, as a means for a woman to conceive. In vitro is a Latin term that means “outside the body.” This is an accurate description because IVF full form is fertilization of the egg occurs outside the laboratory and the embryo is placed into the woman’s uterus in the hopes that it will implant and the baby will start to grow. However, this is a vast oversimplification of IVF full form. The process itself can take several rounds of attempts before a woman can become pregnant, if she is able to successfully conceive at all. There are six chief steps associated with IVF that are described in greater detail below.
The goal for IVF is to control ovulation and ideally have a woman release multiple eggs in an ovulation cycle. To accomplish this, a woman first takes medications that suppress her menstrual cycle. Examples of these medications may include leuprolide or cetrorelix. By taking these medications, a woman’s body will not release eggs before it is time for the doctor to remove them for fertilization.
While a woman is taking medicines to suppress her ovulation, she will also take medications to encourage development of follicles, which release eggs. These medications are usually some type of gonadotropin.
During the process of taking medications, a doctor will ask you to return several times to the doctor’s office to monitor the development of the follicles and eggs. A doctor will usually examine these via ultrasound technology. This involves using a special imaging tool that sends sound waves to the body. When the sound waves bounce back, they can signal the machine to create an image. Once a doctor determines a woman’s eggs have matured enough, they will recommend administering what is known as a “trigger shot.” This shot is an injection that causes the eggs to mature as fully as possible. About 36 hours after a woman receives the trigger shot, she is ready to undergo the egg retrieval process. According to BabyCenter, about 20 percent of IVF cycles are cancelled due to inability to retrieve enough eggs.
Retrieving the eggs is an all-important step is performed at a doctor’s office. A doctor will give a woman medicines that will help her to relax. Then, the doctor will insert a small, thin needle through the vagina and into the ovaries to remove as many eggs as possible. The needle has a suction device on the end of it. The procedure is repeated for both ovaries. If a doctor cannot retrieve any eggs, a woman may choose to utilize donor eggs in the in vitro process. A woman may experience some cramping and mild bleeding after the egg retrieval process.
A man will also donate his sperm for the laboratory insemination and fertilization process. This is usually accomplished through masturbation. However, if a man is unable to donate his sperm in this manner, it can be retrieved for use or a doctor can use sperm from a sperm donor.
The eggs that are retrieved are tested in the laboratory to determine what eggs are the “best quality.” These are the eggs that will be used for insemination. There are two methods a laboratory can use for inseminating the eggs. The first is to expose the egg to sperm and see what sperm will fertilize the egg. The other option is to use an individual sperm that is injected into an egg for fertilization. This is called intracytoplasmic sperm injection or ICSI. This approach is associated with greater success. However, it is a costlier process. However, some fertility programs recommend ISCI for every person who is having IVF done.
During the days that follow, the fertilized eggs will continue to “incubate” in a laboratory. A scientist known as an embryologist will watch the embryos to determine if they will divide as expected to form what is known as a blastocyst. A blastocyst is the beginnings of the baby and placenta. The embryologist will conduct testing to determine what are the most viable embryos as well as if the embryos have signs of common genetic conditions.
About three to five days after the embryos were initially retrieved, a woman will return to her doctor’s office for transfer of the embryos. A couple will discuss with their doctor how many embryos they would like to transfer. Depending on the woman’s age and fertility history, anywhere from one to five embryos will be transferred. It’s important to note that IVF is associated with greater likelihood of becoming pregnant with more than one child.
About two weeks after the embryo transfer, a woman can start taking pregnancy tests to determine if IVF was successful. From start to finish, IVF takes about four to six weeks to be completed. However, success rates are not 100 percent. A woman may have to complete several IVF cycles before she will get pregnant.
Doctors who most commonly perform IVF are endocrinologists, or doctors that specialize in the hormones of the body. Some endocrinologists choose to specialize in fertility, where they can provide treatments including IVF to women. If a couple has been having unprotected sex and has been unable to conceive after a year, they should consult a fertility specialist. IVF is not always the first treatment a doctor will recommend because of its expensive and invasiveness. However, for some people, it may be the first suggested treatment based on a woman’s age, hormone levels, and potential reasons for infertility. For example, due to changes in egg quality when a woman is older than age 35, her best option may be to pursue IVF immediately over other options, such as artificial insemination.
Mayo Clinic: In Vitro Fertilization
MedlinePlus: In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
National Health Service: IVF