Misconception to Conception: How IVF Treatment Works

How IVF Treatment Works How IVF Treatment Works

To understand how IVF treatment works, let’s start right at the beginning -- when your fertility specialist first assesses your medical records, including all the test results and your fertility history.

Your first IVF appointment
During this initial evaluation, your doctor will discuss the effectiveness, complexity, and cost of in vitro fertilization, as well as explain how IVF treatment works to allow you to get pregnant and start a family

Some of the key factors you and the doctor will consider before approaching IVF treatment include:

  • Cause and length of infertility
  • Age
  • Personal, religious, and emotional preference
  • Cost and insurance coverage
  • Access to successful fertility clinic
  • Prognosis for success

The IVF procedure
In theory, exactly how IVF treatment works is quite simple. An egg is taken from your ovary, and healthy sperm are selected from a sample produced by your male partner (or sperm donor).

The egg and sperm are mixed together in a culture dish where fertilization takes place. The resulting embryo is transferred into the uterus about the time it would arrive there in a natural conception. Understanding how IVF treatment works seems easy, doesn’t it? Wrong!

How IVF treatment works
In actual practice, IVF is a very emotional and encompassing experience. IVF treatment is very technical, scientific and progresses in stages including:  

  • Controlled ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs or hormones to produce more eggs (thus a better chance of a pregnancy)
  • Follicle aspiration, where the eggs are removed from the ovary and placed in a culture dish, and then transferred to an incubator. Sperm are then isolated from the semen obtained earlier and the most active sperm are transferred to the same culture dish.
  • In vitro fertilization happens as the oocytes and sperm are left undisturbed in the culture dish. The embryo divides into a 2 cell embryo, then 2 cells into 4 and 4 cells into 8. At this time, the embryo is ready for transfer.
  • Transfer of embryos happens on the second or third day and takes only a few minutes as the doctor places the embryo(s) via a small plastic tube through the cervix into your uterine cavity.
  • Implantation takes place at an unknown time, but your body will receive additional supplements of hCG or progesterone to provide the perfect environment for implantation.

    Ask a doctor about IVF treatment

    Get pregnant with IVF
    Of course, understanding how IVF treatment works also means knowing what can happen if there are obstacles during the process.  For example, in some situations you may not produce any viable eggs. So, donated eggs (donor eggs) may be used for implantation during IVF.

    If your fertility specialists believe your male partner’s sperm will not naturally fertilize your egg, then they may inject the sperm directly into the egg during the in vitro fertilization process. This process eliminates potential problems that can occur in if the sperm is unable to penetrate the shell surrounding the egg. 

    In addition, if your male partner has low quality sperm, donated sperm can be used for fertilization, if necessary.

    Also, genetic testing may be done, if this is something you’ve discussed with your physician, especially if there is a high risk of passing genetic disorders to the children. (This step of IVF is somewhat controversial and may not be available at all IVF clinics.)

    Ask your doctor how IVF treatment works
    After understanding more about how IVF treatment works, the next step is to contact your doctor or fertility specialist. Many OB/GYN practices are connected to reproductive technology programs, and may be able to refer you to a fertility center.

    Also, do your own homework to see how IVF treatment works. Try to get several referrals, and investigate different aspects of each clinic. Comparing factors like cost, experience, location, and other issues would be important to you in choosing the right IVF team of specialists that can help you get pregnant.

    • American Pregnancy Association. In Vitro Fertilization: IVF 
    • American Pregnancy Association. Infertility: Selecting your assisted reproductive technology program MedlinePlus.com: In vitro fertilization (IVF). 
    • American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Frequently Asked Questions About Infertility