Some women describe childbirth as being the worst kind of pain they’ve ever experienced – but maybe those women have never faced infertility. 

The overwhelming emotional pain of NOT being able to have a baby, is what makes many couples decide to opt for IVF, to increase their chances of becoming parents. 

For couples whose chances of conceiving without IVF are slim, or even non-existent, IVF offers hope and when it’s successful, it can feel like a dream come true. Having said that, as with any other medical decision, it’s really important to be fully aware of the risks, as well as the benefits, so that you can make an informed choice.  

When was the first IVF baby born?

The first test tube baby was born in 1978. Since then, there have been great advances in technology and in medical knowledge. As a result, the number of people opting for IVF treatment has increased considerably, as has the success rate.

What are the benefits of IVF?

IVF can give many couples and individuals the chance of becoming parents, when they have failed to conceive naturally.

This is because IVF can help to overcome some of the following barriers to natural conception, including:

  • damaged, blocked or removed fallopian tubes – the process used in IVF bypasses the fallopian tubes, by placing the embryo straight into the uterus
  • low ovarian reserve – IVF treatment stimulates egg release 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – IVF treatment stimulates egg release
  • Premature ovarian failure – with IVF, donor eggs can be used, as the eggs will be fertilised in the lab
  • low sperm count or poor sperm motility – sperm is placed with/injected into the eggs in the lab using IVF or ICSI
  • ejaculation difficulties – sperm can be surgically removed from the epididymal tubes 
  • unexplained infertility – even if the reason for a couple failing to conceive has not been ascertained, IVF has still been shown to help in many cases
  • IVF provides the opportunity for same sex couples, or individuals who are not in a relationship, to conceive children who have a biological link to them

What are the risks and drawbacks associated with IVF?

While success rates have increased considerably since IVF was first introduced, there are no guarantees that IVF treatment will work for any given individuals or couples. Success rates are based on factors such as age, fertility history and lifestyle and as well as the lack of guaranteed success, as with other medical procedures, there are significant risks associated with IVF treatment.    

Risks and drawbacks include:

  • the chance of having multiple babies – the risk of multiple births increases with IVF and this can create risks for the mother and baby, with the increased likelihood of miscarriage, premature birth and associated problems.
  • Ovarian Hyper Stimulation – although rare, it can be a dangerous and sometimes life-threatening complication
  • risk of ectopic pregnancy – although it’s also believed that IVF may be helpful for some people who have previously experienced tubal pregnancies/ectopic pregnancies, as the IVF process bypasses the fallopian tubes  
  • risk of premature birth with full cycle IVF (natural or mild IVF reduces this associated risk) 
  • ethical issues, such as the possibility of some embryos being discarded
  • the financial cost of IVF treatment is high and few people are successful with just one cycle
  • the physical and emotional impact of going through the IVF process – stress is a common factor, even if lucky enough to have a successful outcome
  • the side effects of fertility medication
  • reactions to anaesthetic and risk of infection, as with other surgical procedures.

Here at the IVF Network, we understand that deciding to embark on IVF treatment is a big decision in itself and that you will have many questions along the way to ask your fertility specialist. Our aim with our dedicated channel, website and blog posts, is to provide you with additional information, to help you to make more informed choices, at every stage of your fertility journey.