Standing for in vitro fertilisation, IVF is a form of fertility treatment. The process may differ slightly from clinic to clinic and depends on whether you use your own eggs or from a donor, and if they’re fresh or frozen. But essentially IVF involves a fertility doctor extracting your eggs and mixing them with sperm in the lab.
The sperm fertilises the eggs to create embryos. The best quality one (embryo) is transferred from the lab to the woman’s uterus to develop into a healthy baby. The whole process can take from four to six weeks including visits to the clinic.
To make babies you need eggs (and sperm). So, the first step is to stimulate your ovaries to produce sufficient mature eggs by injecting fertility hormones. The clinic will demonstrate how to inject yourself, and for how long (it ranges from nine to 12 days).
Next, the eggs are collected from the ovaries for fertilising in the IVF lab. While you’re sedated, a needle is inserted through your vagina wall into each ovary. The eggs are contained in fluid in tiny sacs (follicles) in the ovary – the fluid is suctioned out via the needle. Age influences what’s a good number of eggs. Overall, clinics aim for 10 to 15. Less than five reduces your chances of a baby, but doesn’t mean pregnancy is out of reach.
Fertilisation using IVF is similar to the process that occurs inside the human body. The key difference is conception takes places in a (petri) dish in a lab. The embryologist combines your eggs with your partner’s/donor sperm (see below), transfers them to a special incubator then checks daily to see if they develop into embryos.
Around five days after egg collection, the embryos are ready to be transferred into your uterus. Not all will make it to this stage and others won’t be of high enough quality (or grade). To assess them, the embryologist checks and scores their appearance. You will then be asked to attend the clinic for the transfer. A fine needle attached to a plastic tube is used to place the embryo into your womb with the aim of it (the embryo) implanting successfully.
This is much simpler than for women. A good quality sperm sample is needed for fertilisation. So, the man will usually be asked not have sex/masturbate for few days before providing this. His sperm is collected at the IVF clinic the same day that eggs are harvested from their partner (or donor). Either he will provide sperm through ejaculation. Or men with a low (sperm) count may have sperm extracted under local anaesthetic. This is achieved using a fine needle inserted into the back of the testicles.
After embryo transfer, it’s tempting to go ahead and do a pregnancy test instead of facing the nerve-wracking wait. Don’t be too hasty though - the advice from your IVF consultant will be to hold back for around two weeks. Once this deadline has passed, you can buy a urine home testing kit. Or book a test with your fertility clinic where they check your blood for levels of the pregnancy hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG).