IVF treatment is regarded as the most effective kind of assisted reproductive technology. Though the IVF procedure can take place using your eggs and your partner's sperm, it can also be carried out using donor materials. On occasions, it may even involve a so-called ‘gestational carrier’ – a woman who agrees to have the embryo implanted in her own uterus.
Your chances of bearing a healthy child via IVF depend on a number of factors, including the medical cause of your infertility. The IVF procedure can prove invasive and time-consuming, as well as costly, and if several embryos are implanted, IVF can result in a multiple pregnancy, with more than one foetus.
Talking through the IVF process with a medical expert can help you learn more about the IVF procedure and any potential risks in order to decide whether this approach to treating infertility would be suitable for you.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is designed to treat infertility or genetic problems and can offer a response to certain medical conditions, such as:
- blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, which can impair fertilisation or prevent an embryo reaching the uterus.
- ovulation disorders where there is irregular ovulation, or none at all.
- premature ovarian failure, where ovulation ceases at an early age.
- endometriosis, which occurs where there is abnormal growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus.
- fibroids (benign tumours), which develop in the wall of the uterus, and which can interfere with implantation of the fertilized egg.
- prior tubal sterilization (or removal), performed to prevent pregnancy, can often be overcome via IVF treatment.
- impaired sperm production or function can also be overcome via IVF procedures.
- unexplained infertility can often be addressed via IVF.
- genetic disorders, which may otherwise be passed on to the baby, can be screened out before implantation takes place (though some conditions cannot always be identified).
- fertility preservation is a response that saves unfertilized eggs for a future IVF procedure – for example, in situations where a proposed treatment may harm fertility (e.g. cancer treatments).
- a gestational carrier may be used in the IVF process to allow one woman to carry a child on behalf of another who is unable to do so.
In vitro fertilisation is often used to treat infertility in situations where more conservative and less invasive procedures have failed to produce results.
There are some risks attached to the different stages of the IVF cycle, including:
- multiple births are more likely with IVF.
- premature delivery is slightly more likely, as is a low birth weight.
- ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome occurs when your ovaries swell and feel painful as a side effect of fertility drugs.
- miscarriage rates of 15-25% are similar to those for natural births. The risk increases for older women, and with the use of frozen embryos.
- egg-retrieval complications might cause bleeding, infection or damage in the bladder, bowel or a blood vessel.
- ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy outside the uterus) can occur in 2-5% of treatments, and means the pregnancy must be terminated.
- birth defects (e.g. congenital heart defects) are always primarily associated with the age of the mother, and it is not clear that IVF increases this risk.
- stress can be induced by the IVF process, which can be a physical, emotional and financial strain. Formal and informal support networks can do much to limit its effects.
IVF is only one of several fertility treatments available, and specialists are likely to recommend other less-invasive treatments as a first response. Possible alternative strategies include:
- ovulation induction, which involves an ultrasound scan and oral medication, may help those whose ovulation is irregular to become pregnant.
- IUI (intrauterine insemination), often known as artificial insemination, is a procedure that introduces a male partner’s sperm to the uterus. This cost-effective procedure feels much like having a cervical smear.
- keyhole surgery is a surgical intervention, which can be considered as an option if an underlying condition, such as endometriosis, is making natural pregnancy more difficult.