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In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Explained

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In vitro fertilization, also known as IVF is a type of assisted reproduction technology (ART) that is used for couples experiencing infertility. The first successful IVF was in Great Britain in 1978 when Louise Joy Brown was born. IVF was used successfully for the first time in the United States in 1981, and in 2013 there were 67,996 live born infants, according to the CDC’s Fertility Clinic Success Rates Report. (2013 success rates are the most recent.)

What Is IVF?

IVF was first developed in Great Britain as a way for women who had blockages or scarring in their fallopian tubes to become pregnant. Today, however, IVF has evolved into a treatment for many different kinds of infertility, including infertility caused by endometriosis, male factor infertility and unexplained infertility who have not been able to become pregnant with other fertility treatments.

When a couple chooses to use IVF, it simply means that the woman’s egg — or a donated egg — is fertilized outside of the body. The egg is placed with her partner's sperm — or donated sperm — together in a laboratory dish, which is where the fertilization occurs. The embryo or embryos then grow in the laboratory for a few days. Then, one or more embryos is transferred into the woman's uterus with the hope that it will implant and grow naturally to become a healthy child.

The IVF Procedure

IVF consists of five basic steps, all of which take place during one menstrual cycle:

  1. Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. Fertility drugs are administered to the women to stimulate the ovaries so that multiple follicles and eggs develop. In a normal cycle, the ovaries typically make and release only one egg.
  2. Egg retrieval. The eggs are typically removed from the ovaries in an outpatient surgical setting. The fertility doctor uses a needle passed through the vagina under ultrasound guidance to aspirate the fluid from the follicles and pull out the egg.
  3. In vitro fertilization. The eggs are placed with sperm in the laboratory dish, or the embryologist may use a procedure known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) in which one sperm is injected directly into the egg for fertilization.
  4. Uterine embryo transfer. The embryos are transferred into the woman's uterus using a tiny catheter and ultrasound guidance.
  5. Monitoring and support. The fertility specialists will monitor the woman to check blood levels to assess the quality of the uterine lining. If the woman gets pregnant, she will have an ultrasound two weeks after a positive result to check for the fetal heartbeat.

Variations on the IVF Procedure

Depending on age or a couple's diagnosis or individual circumstance, there are many variations in IVF. These variations include:

IVF Success Rates

According to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, there were 190,773 IVF cycles, and 54,323 live births resulting in 67,996 live born infants. IVF success rates vary according to many factors, with the most important one being the age of the woman when using her own eggs. Success rates decline as women age, and significantly drop off after age 35.