In vitro fertilization, or more commonly known as IVF, is a technologically advanced procedure used to help infertile couples conceive a child. The procedure takes place outside of the womb and is usually implemented when other treatments have not been successful. There are five steps involved in IVF. First, the female patient takes injections to stimulate the ovary to produce multiple mature eggs at the same time. Second, the eggs are harvested and either mixed with sperm in a petri dish, or in some cases, a single sperm is injected into the egg to achieve fertilization. Then, once fertilization takes place and the embryos are formed, they are transferred to the woman’s uterus via a catheter. If there are additional embryos, they are usually frozen for future use if the treatment is not successful or if additional children are planned.
The patient will take injectable FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) for eight to eleven days, depending on how long the follicles take to mature. This hormone is produced naturally in a woman’s body causing one egg to develop per cycle. Taking the injectable FSH causes several follicles to develop at once, at approximately the same rate. The development is monitored with vaginal ultrasounds and following the patient’s levels of estradiol and progesterone. FSH brand names include Repronex, Follistim, Menopur, Gonal-F and Bravelle. The patient injects herself daily.
When the follicles have developed enough to be harvested, the patient attends an appointment where she is anesthetized and prepared for the procedure. Next, the doctor uses an ultrasound probe to guide a needle through the vaginal wall and into the follicle of the ovary. The thin needle draws the follicle fluid, which is then examined by an embryologist to find the eggs. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.
In the next step, the harvested eggs are then fertilized. If the sperm from the potential father, or in some cases, anonymous donor, has normal functionality, the eggs and sperm are placed together in a dish with a nutrient fluid, then incubated overnight to fertilize normally. If the sperm functionality is suboptimal, an embryologist uses Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection to inject a single sperm into a single egg with an extremely precise glass needle. Once fertilization is complete, the embryos are assessed and prepared to be transferred to the patient’s uterus.
The doctor and the patient will discuss the number of embryos to be transferred. The number of successfully fertilized eggs usually determines the number of eggs to be placed in the uterus. Embryos are transferred to the uterus with transabdominal ultrasound guidance. This process does not require anesthesia, but it can cause minor cervical or uterine discomfort. Following transfer, the patient is advised to take at least one days bed rest and two or three additional days of rest, then 10 to 12 days later, two pregnancy tests are scheduled to confirm success. Once two positive tests are completed, an obstetrical ultrasound is ordered to show the sac, fetal pole, yolk sac and fetal heart rate.