How In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Works

In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a fertility solution for many couples who have not been able to conceive a child through natural methods. Since the first child conceived through IVF was born in 1978, over 1,000,000 babies have been born in the U.S. thanks to IVF and other similar techniques. The process involves several steps.

Controlling Ovulation

The first step is controlling ovulation. In many cases, the doctor will first administer a drug to block natural ovulation before stimulating the ovaries to produce eggs at a specific time. Once the ovarian follicles have been stimulated, the patient is monitored for signs that the follicles are developing properly and that ovulation is about to occur.

Harvesting Eggs

Once eggs have been produced, the patient is put under a general anesthesia while they are retrieved. The doctor will use an ultrasound to guide a very fine needle as it extracts the eggs from the ovaries. The eggs are then separated from the fluid and prepared for fertilization.

Fertilizing Eggs

There are a couple of methods commonly used to fertilize eggs. In one method, the eggs and prepared sperm (about 75,000 per egg) are combined and incubated in a culture media, where fertilization will occur without assistance. Another method involves selecting a sperm and injecting it directly into the egg. This latter method is preferred when the sperm have low motility.

Incubating Eggs

Once eggs have been fertilized, they are incubated for anywhere from three to five days. If a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or pgd with ivf is recommended, it is performed on either Day 3, when a single cell is taken, or Day 5, when six to eight cells are taken and analyzed. The cells are screened for genes associated with a serious genetic disorder or increased risk of miscarriage. The test does not harm the developing embryos.

Implanting Eggs

The final step in the process is to transfer one or more healthy embryos into the patient’s uterus, via a thin tube. The number of embryos transferred will depend on several factors, including the patient’s age and health. A younger age and the use of fresh embryos rather than frozen ones are two factors positively associated with pregnancy and childbirth following IVF treatment.