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IVF: An overview

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IVF stands for ‘In Vitro Fertilisation’. This is the process for removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries and mixing them with sperm in a laboratory culture dish (in vitro means ‘in glass’ in Latin) in order to fertilise the egg. The first IVF baby – often referred to as the first ‘test tube baby’ – was born in 1978 and in more recent years, up to 2% of babies in the UK have been born as a result of IVF.

When and why would you have IVF?

If you are having problems conceiving, the first thing you need to do is speak to your doctor. They will need to know how long you have been trying and if there are any other health factors to consider. Before anyone suggests IVF, there are other treatments to try first such as fertility drugs like clomiophene – this stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs.

If the problem is related to your partner’s sperm then it will depend on whether the issue is minor or major. Minor problems can make you a suitable candidate for IVF however more serious issues are more effectively overcome using ICSI – this is similar to IVF except the extracted egg is injected directly with the sperm. This can help couples when the sperm cannot get to the egg or can get there but cannot fertilise it.

IVF nurse

You may be recommended for IVF for the following reasons:

– If you have blocked or damaged fallopian tubes

– If your partner has a minor problem with his sperm or if you have already tried fertility drugs such as clomiphene ( as explained above)

– If you have been trying to conceive for at least 2 years and the cause hasn’t been identified

Who will pay for IVF?

It’s no secret that IVF is a costly procedure. There are guidelines in place related to age, health conditions (as discussed above) and whether you’ve had IVF in the past. These dictate whether you can have IVF on the NHS or not.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) states that up to 3 cycles of IVF should be offered to eligible couples if the woman is aged between 23-39 years old. Only 1 cycle will be offered if the woman is aged 40-42 years provided she has never had IVF before, that she has enough eggs and that she understands the implications of having IVF at this age.

That said, there are other factors which will affect your eligibility for NHS funding such as your location, whether you’ve had NHS or self funded IVF treatment in the past and if you already have children – this last factor means you are unlikely to be eligible. You should also bear in mind that waiting lists can be long so you should manage your own expectations. Even if you get accepted, you could be in for a wait.

How does it work?

A single cycle of IVF takes between 4 and 6 weeks to complete. It will involve some invasive procedures so you should speak to your doctor in order to prepare for each step of the process.

You are likely to be given fertility drugs and hormone injections initially in order to increase the number of mature eggs for retrieval. Throughout this part of the process you will be monitored for potential side effects and also to check how your eggs are responding.

Once your eggs are mature – this will be checked by ultrasound – your doctor will remove your eggs from your ovaries. At this point your partner will also provide a fresh sample of semen. The sperm is then combined with the eggs and left to culture in an incubator.

IVF injections

After one day of combining the eggs and sperm, the dish is checked for fertilised eggs. Any successfully fertilised eggs will be kept for between 2 and 5 days before being transferred into your uterus.

NICE recommends no more than 2 embryos should be transferred and legally no more than 3 can be transferred at once. If more embryos were successfully fertilised then these may be frozen for future cycles.

This is IVF in a nutshell. There are lots of other factors to consider such as potential health risks (for you and your baby) and your current state of health – are you fit and well enough to cope with the procedures, the emotional rollercoaster of IVF cycles and (hopefully) the subsequent pregnancy?

Looking after yourself is a proactive step to increasing your chances of success. If you are overweight, reaching a healthy weight for your height will help as will lower consumption of alcohol and quitting smoking – this last point applies to both you and your partner.

Whether you are considering fertility treatment or are coming to terms with the possibility that it may not work for you, there are organisations and support groups that can help – ask your doctor for more details.





About Celyn Parry

About Celyn Parry

Celyn Parry has 12 years experience working with a leading children’s retailer but is now focusing on her passion for writing. With many years spent on the shop floor listening to parents, she prides herself on creating down to earth articles with a dash of humour and personal insight. As Step-Mum to adorable chatterbox Max, it’s a bit of a juggling act but it certainly keeps things interesting!

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