A Starters Guide To IVF

The number of babies born through IVF continues to grow year on year. In 2018, Australian women initiated over 84K IVF cycles, and year on year these stats are growing by 2.2%. Today, almost one in 20 babies in Australia is born via IVF. This series of clinical procedures, designed to assist with conception is conducted in a clinical setting. But the specifics can be overwhelming, so we’ll try to break it down here.

What Is IVF

With a culture encouraging women to undertake the experience in silence, it’s hard to know what to expect and how to best prepare. So, this ‘Guide To’ aims to arm us all with knowledge, more questions, and an awareness of what our fellow females might be going through.

IVF runs in cycles, with each cycle coinciding with one menstrual cycle. Normally, our ovaries produce 1 egg every month (occasionally 2 or more), but with IVF,  hormone medications stimulate our follicles to produce multiple eggs. These procedures can be invasive, involved and result in an emotional rollercoaster of hormones and moods.

With a culture encouraging women to undertake the experience in silence, it’s hard to know what to expect and how to best prepare

Who is IVF for?

If you are experiencing any of the following, IVF may be recommended:

  • blocked ovarian tubes
  • irregular ovulation
  • PCOS
  • endometriosis
  • low egg count
  • fibroids
  • male partner experiencing low sperm count, mobility or abnormal sperm size and shape
  • you or your partner have a genetic disorder which you do not want to pass on to your child and therefore choose IVF and preimplantation genetic testing (PGTm)
  • you or your partner will start cancer treatment that may affect your fertility in the future

IVF is also a great option for same sex couples and single women wishing to have a baby without the presence of a man.

What’s the IVF process?

  • STEP 1: BLOOD TEST

Starting on the first day of your period, it’s important to contact your fertility clinic for further advice. Day one usually includes a blood test in the morning. In the case your period starts in the afternoon, blood tests etc will occur the next morning.

  • STEP 2: HORMONE STIMULATION

Treatment starts on day 2 or 3 of your cycle, and will need to be continued every day until your eggs are a certain size. For some women this happens after 8 days, but for others it can take longer. These treatments are synonymous with mood changes, and many women report the impact to be intense.

  • STEP 3: TRIGGER SHOT

Once the eggs have reached a certain size, you’ll need to give yourself a trigger injection. The shot contains hCG hormone which triggers the release of an egg.

  • STEP 4: EGG RETRIEVAL

Roughly 34-36 hours after the trigger shot, eggs are ready for retrieval. Things to note: It’s a short procedure, but it can feel invasive. Performed under sedation or anaesthetic in a procedure room or operating theatre in hospital, the eggs are retrieved through the vagina and into the follicles via a thin needle and ultrasound-guided procedure, performed by your fertility specialist. If the fertility specialist can’t access your follicles this way, you’ll be scheduled for egg retrieval via laparoscopic surgery.

  • STEP 5: SEMEN SAMPLE

If you are using fresh sperm, rather than frozen or donor sperm, your male partner will need to produce a fresh semen sample on the same day of the egg collection.

  • STEP 6: FERTILISATION

The mature eggs are then mixed with your partner’s or donor’s sperm in a culture dish to begin fertilisation on their own. In some cases your fertility specialist might recommend Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) as the procedure type. This is when a single healthy sperm is injected in each mature egg. ICSI is typically used when the sperm quality is low.

  • STEP 7: EMBRYO TRANSFER

Roughly 3-5 days after retrieval, the embryo can be transferred back to your uterus. A catheter is inserted into your vagina, where a syringe is used to place the embryo through the catheter and into your uterus. While the procedure is usually painless, you may be given a mild sedative, as mild cramping can occur here. It’s usually all over within 5 minutes.

Note:  If more than one embryo is able to develop successfully, the most viable embryo will be used, and additional embryos can be frozen and stored for later use if needed.

  • STEP 8: RESULTS

Once the embryo has been transferred, a two-week wait starts before you can test for a pregnancy, which is done via a blood test.

What can I expect to feel?

The hormone injections involved in IVF leave many women experiencing:

  • bruising and tenderness at injection sites
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • breast tenderness
  • fatigue
  • increased moodiness and emotional ups and downs

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