What Is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) And How Does It Work?

4 minute read

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) can be a long and expensive process, but worth it if you’re otherwise unable to conceive. While success is not guaranteed, learning about what IVF is, how much it costs, how effective it is, and certain things you can do to increase your success rate, may help. Read on to learn all about IVF.

What is IVF?

IVF, or in vitro fertilization, is a medical procedure to help a person get pregnant. IVF treatment involves fertilizing an egg with sperm outside the body, or in vitro, which means “in glass”. The egg is retrieved from the body by stimulating and monitoring the ovulatory process. The egg is then removed and combined with sperm in vitro (in glass) in a laboratory. The fertilized egg is placed back inside the uterus so the embryo can be carried to term.

What does IVF stand for?

IVF stands for in vitro fertilization.

How does IVF work?

In vitro fertilization (IVF)  works by fertilizing an egg with sperm outside the body. The fertilized egg, aka the embryo, is then placed in the uterus. If the embryo implants in the uterine lining, pregnancy can result. The process typically involves these steps: 

  1. Injections: For 8-12 days, you’ll receive injections to stimulate follicles for oocyte retrieval. Suppression injections may also be given in the weeks leading up to oocyte retrieval. 
  2. Ultrasounds: Invasive ultrasounds are given to monitor and measure follicles. 
  3. Egg retrieval: This is a surgical procedure where the patient is given a “twilight” anesthesia. The egg is then placed in a liquid with sperm for fertilization. 
  4. Embryo Implant: The fertilized egg is placed inside the uterus 2-6 days after egg retrieval. If the embryo implants in the uterine lining, pregnancy can result.
Does IVF hurt?

People experience sensations from IVF differently. While some report mild pain, most experience discomfort over pain. You will receive injection and stimulation shots in the weeks leading up to egg retrieval, but the needles are tiny. Shots may be given in the thigh or abdomen, and some abdominal tenderness may result. You may also get progesterone injections in the buttocks, but numbing with ice and heat compressions can lessen discomfort.

Invasive ultrasounds are also part of the IVF process, and some people report slight vaginal pain or cramping. During the egg retrieval process, you’ll receive a twilight anesthesia, which will help you stay comfortable and sleep during the procedure.

How long does IVF take?

A full cycle of IVF takes four to six weeks to complete. That’s because it takes a few weeks for your eggs to mature. After that, the egg retrieval procedure and fertilization process takes about half a day. The egg is placed back in the woman’s uterus two to six days after that.

How successful is IVF?

There are several factors that contribute to whether or not IVF is successful: age, lifestyle habits, previous fertility and pregnancy issues, whether or not you’re using donor eggs, etc. In general, here are IVF success rates based on age.

How to increase IVF success

If you’re wondering how to increase IVF success, there are a few things you can do.

  • Stay healthy. Maintain a healthy body weight and routine involving a good diet and exercise. Quit smoking and other harmful activities, such as excessive drinking. 
  • Wear boxers over briefs. Strengthen sperm health by choosing boxers. 
  • Take supplements. DHEA and CoQ10 can help egg health, and there are certain multivitamins meant for sperm health. Vitamins, such as vitamin D, can also help improve fertility. 
  • Be relaxed. The IVF process can be stressful, but stress can negatively affect results. Try yoga, meditation, or other activities to get your mind off things. 
  • Find a fertility clinic and doctor you trust. Above all else, finding a great fertility clinic and a doctor you trust can help improve your odds of IVF success.
How much does IVF cost?

On average, IVF costs between $15,000 and $10,000 per cycle. Additionally, medication needed for IVF costs between $1,500 and $3,000 per cycle. Whether or not insurance covers some, all, or no parts of IVF is dependent on your plan. Talk to your provider to learn more.

How to get IVF covered by insurance

If you’re wondering how to get IVF covered by insurance, talk to your provider to find out which plan will give you the most coverage. Note that some plans will cover in vitro fertilization, but not the injections. Some plans will cover the entire process, while others may not give you coverage at all. If you don’t get any coverage, you might want to consider switching providers.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) can be a stressful and overwhelming process, but hopefully will yield an end result that makes it all worth it. Having all the information you need about IVF will best equip you for a successful treatment. But regardless of how things turn out, know that you’re not alone in your IVF journey. Millions of people have tried IVF with varying levels of success, and sometimes it just takes a couple of cycles to get to where you want.

Louise Bourchier, MPH

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Louise Bourchier is a sex educator and sex researcher with 8 years experience in the field. She teaches about sexual health, sexual pleasure, and communication in relationships through workshops, live-streams, and with written content. Using a sex-positive approach, a dash of humour, and bag full of fun props, Louise’s style of sex education for adults is not what you got in high school! Since 2011 she has taught over a hundred workshops to a wide range of audiences, from university students, to refugees, to medical professionals, to adult store clientele. She has a Masters of Public Health, and is currently a PhD candidate.

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