According to the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority):

‘Over 1.3 million IVF cycles and more than 260,000 donor insemination (DI) cycles have been performed in the UK since 1991, resulting in the birth of 390,000 babies, new figures from the HFEA show.’

Success rates for IVF vary considerably, with the age of the female partner being the biggest factor. Some people in the UK qualify for NHS funding and many others pay for treatment at private clinics. However, many people don’t know what the IVF process actually involves, unless they, or close friends or family members, have been through it. Here is a step-by-step guide of what is involved in the IVF process and how to prepare for it.

1.     Making the decision about whether to have IVF treatment

After you have been referred by your GP, your fertility specialist will discuss with you whether IVF treatment is the best option for you, given the medical history of you and your partner (if you have one). They may conduct blood tests, sperm analysis, scans and examinations, to help decide the best course of action. You will be told what the process involves and given the opportunity to ask any questions that you may have.

IVF can involve a large financial investment, with no guarantee of success, so this is also something to consider, if you don’t qualify for NHS funding.

2.     Preparing for IVF

Counselling may be recommended before you start, as IVF is a complex process and it is physically and emotionally challenging. It’s also important to consider your lifestyle, as having a healthy BMI and a healthy lifestyle can increase your chances of conceiving, as well as being beneficial for the health of any children you may go on to have. You will need to be available at relatively short notice for appointments, as the timing will be individual to you, depending on how your body reacts to the fertility drugs. At this point, you may wish to tell your employer, if you have one.  

A couple discussing IVF with their doctor

3.     Stimulation of the ovaries

You will be shown how to self-administer injections at home, to stimulate your ovaries to release more eggs.


4.   Monitoring the follicles

During the stimulation stage, you will need to attend the clinic for scans and possibly blood tests, to observe how the follicles are responding to the medication. When your follicles are ready, you will have a trigger injection, to mature the eggs and get them ready for collection.

5.    Egg collection

Egg collection will take place 36-40 hours after the trigger injection. A light sedative will be used, to make you feel sleepy during the egg removal procedure. The process takes around 30 minutes and involves a fine needle being passed through your vaginal wall.

Due to the effects of the sedation, you will need to have someone with you for the following 24 hours and you need to rest and avoid driving or operating machinery.

You may be advised to take medication, to help to prepare your uterus for a potential embryo transfer, if viable embryos are produced.


6.   Sperm collection

If donor sperm is being used, this will have previously been frozen, to test for any genetic abnormalities or infections. If you are using your partner’s sperm, they will need to produce a sperm sample on the day of egg collection, in a private room.

7.   The insemination procedure

The eggs will be placed in a special dish in the lab and the best sperm will be selected and placed next to the eggs in the dish. If you have opted to have ICSI, a single sperm will be injected into each egg. The dishes will then be placed in an incubator to enable them to fertilise.

8. Embryo monitoring

At this point, the experts at the fertility clinic will keep checking to see if any embryos are forming. You will be kept informed on the development of any embryos and then told whether any of them are viable for transfer.


9.     Embryo transfer

If any of the embryos are viable, you will be invited to the clinic five days after egg collection, to have either one or two of them transferred into your uterus. If there are any viable embryos remaining, you may choose to have them frozen, for potential further cycles.

10.  Pregnancy testing

At least seven days after the embryo transfer, you will be invited into the clinic for a pregnancy test. It’s important to wait for this test, rather than to do a home pregnancy test, as the fertility hormones that you have been taking as part of the process, may give either a false positive or a false negative.

Depending on the results of your pregnancy test, the clinic will advise you on your next steps. If it is positive, they will offer pregnancy advice and give you an appointment to attend for a scan. If your test is negative, they will advise you on how to get support and what your options are for possible future treatment, if that is what you decide to do.


Here at The IVF Network, we understand how physically and emotionally challenging dealing with infertility and treatment can be. That’s why we provide a wide range of information, through our dedicated channel of experts and our website and blogposts, to help you to make informed choices on your personal IVF journey.