What is IVF?

IVF or in vitro fertilization involves artificial insemination outside the womb, in laboratory conditions. The eggs and sperm are combined outside the body and once it turns into an embryo or embryos, it is placed in the uterus of the mother.

IVF was not a household name in the 1970s, when English baby Louise Brown was born as the first successful ‘test tube’ baby. Conceived outside the womb, Brown was a wonder kid back then. But now, it’s a common procedure that provides hope to hundreds of childless couples all over the world. 

IVF, however, is not the first step in infertility treatment. Doctors resort to IVF only if methods like fertility drugs, surgery, and artificial insemination fail.

Who can take IVF treatment?

IVF gifts parenthood to women who are not otherwise able to conceive. Women in their late 30s or early 40s can go for IVF along with those suffering from ovulatory problems or anatomical issues that include endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and even unexplained infertility or male infertility factors. Women with non-functional or missing fallopian tubes, reduced ovarian function and men with very poor sperm quality or production can opt for this treatment to have children. 

Before IVF, alternate treatment like intrauterine insemination is also given a shot. If that’s unsuccessful, the doctor recommends IVF.

Sperm and egg donors can also help in IVF treatment in case either of the couple have incurable conditions. Parents may also choose IVF if they run the risk of passing a genetic disorder on to their offspring after a medical lab tests the embryos for genetic abnormalities. IVF is also beneficial for same-sex couples who want to start a family.

Preparation for IVF treatment

Women will have to undergo ovarian reserve testing, which involves taking a blood sample and testing it for the level of follicle stimulating hormone that determines the size and quality of eggs. Doctor will examine the uterus too using an ultrasound and endoscopy to determine the health of the uterus and to decide on the best way to implant the embryos.

Men will have to undergo sperm testing, wherein their semen sample is analysed for the number, size and shape of the sperm. If the sperms are weak or damaged, an intracytoplasmic sperm injection will have to be done wherein the sperm is directly injected into the egg. 

Steps in IVF

IVF involves five steps, namely stimulation, egg retrieval, insemination, embryo culture and transfer.

Stimulation: During each menstrual cycle, a woman produces one egg, but IVF requires multiple eggs to increase the chances of developing a viable embryo. Using fertility drugs, the production of eggs is boosted in the woman’s body. 

Egg retrieval: Egg retrieval or follicular aspiration is a surgical procedure performed with anaesthesia, where a needle inserted through the vagina, ovary and egg-containing follicle sucks in the eggs and fluid from each follicle.

Insemination: The semen sample from the male is mixed with the eggs in a petri dish to produce embryos. In case it fails, the doctor may go for ICSI.

Embryo culture: Fertilised eggs are monitored to keep development in check. The embryos may also undergo genetic testing at this time.

Transfer: Once grown enough, the embryos are implanted three to five days after fertilisation. A catheter is inserted into the vagina and guides through cervix into the uterus, where the embryo is released.