In 1978, since in vitro fertilization was first introduced, it has helped conceive approximately 8 million babies throughout the world. While many people might not anticipate needing reproductive technology to help build their families, there are no doubt countless individuals who are grateful for IVF. If you’ve been trying to conceive for some time or know you have a medical issue that might reduce your reproductive potential , you may be wondering about the process as well as the overall IVF Timeline and if it’s right for you.
An Introduction to IVF and Who It Can Benefit
Resolve: the National Infertility Association defines IVF as, “In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a technique where a woman’s eggs and man’s sperm are combined in a special laboratory in order to create an embryo or embryos. Depending on the diagnosis and age of the woman, an embryo or embryos are transferred to the woman’s uterus through her cervix to enhance the chances of pregnancy.” Depending on your IVF protocol the IVF timeline can range anywhere from four to six weeks for one in vitro cycle. IVF is typically recommended for the following:
- Couples in which either the male or female has a known medical issue such as a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, diminished ovarian reserve or in the men’s case, a concern with their sperm (low sperm count, etc).
- Couples in a same-sex relationship.
- Women who are under the age of 35 years old who have a known medical issue that may impact her fertility, who have irregular periods, have a male partner who has a fertility concern or have been regularly trying to conceive for more than a year.
- Women over 35 years old who have been regularly trying to conceive for more than six months.
- Women 40 years old or older. Both egg quantity and quality diminish as a woman gets older, so it can be helpful to seek the help of a fertility specialist if you’re in your late 30’s – early 40’s to get the proper testing to evaluate your fertility.
- Women who have a history of pregnancy loss regardless of whether the pregnancy was conceived naturally or through fertility treatment).
IVF Timeline Breakdown
While every cycle is different, and every IVF Timeline can vary, below are the basic four stages to each cycle:
- Fertility Consultation: Before you begin any fertility treatment, you will meet with a reproductive endocrinologist who will review your medical history, any previous treatment you’ve done (including any previous IVF cycles) and any diagnosis for you or your partner have that could impact your family building goals. Depending on which clinic you go to and what is included in the consultation, some initial consultations are just a conversation while some include blood work and an ultrasound.
- IVF Preparation: This will include blood work, fertility testing (both male and female), an ultrasound, infectious testing and in some cases, regulating the woman’s menstrual cycle (if recommended, it may entail taking birth control pills). Your doctor will review your health and fertility history as well as your test results and put together a personalized IVF protocol for you and your partner.
- Fertility Medication and Monitoring: Most IVF cycles are done with injectable hormones that stimulate follicular growth (each follicle that grows on a woman’s ovary contains an egg). The goal is to produce more eggs in a single cycle so that they may be retrieved and fertilized to create embryos. You will be monitored during the IVF Timeline. Your doctor will perform regular ultrasounds and blood work to evaluate your follicle and egg development and hormone levels. This part of the timeline is the most time consuming as it involves regular doctor visits.
- The Trigger Shot, Egg Retrieval and Fertilization: Based on your monitoring appointments, once your doctor feels your follicles have grown to a certain size indicating that the eggs are mature enough to be fertilized, he or she will advise you to take the trigger shot. They will then schedule the egg retrieval for 36 hours later. The eggs will be retrieved under light sedation and the eggs and sperm will be combined in a lab. Also, if you and your doctor have spoken about whether Pre-implantation Genetic Testing for Monogenic Diseases (PGT-M), formerly known as PGD, and/or Pre-implantation Genetic Testing for Aneuploidy (PGT-A), formerly known as PGS should be recommended based on your particular situation; these would be performed on any embryos created.
From here, your IVF Timeline is based on both your situation and the protocol recommended. For example, if you’re doing what is known as a “Freeze All” cycle, all of the embryos created will be frozen using the fast freeze technology known as vitrification. These can be transferred to the uterus at a later date. If you’re doing what is referred to as a “fresh transfer”, you will have an embryo placed into your uterus between 3 and 5 days after fertilization depending on the development of the embryos.
For many, by the time they get to the IVF process, they are eager to have a family. It’s a common concern that the IVF Timeline is going to be long. With support from your your family and friends, as well as your medical team, the journey can be an exciting and happy one.