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How does IVF work?


IVF is one of many fertility treatments available to help those who’re having trouble getting pregnant naturally. The IVF process typically follows a pattern, however, in some cases, extra treatments can be incorporated into the cycle as required.

IVF is not suitable for everyone and in many cases alternative, less invasive treatment options may be recommended based on your individual medical history and situation.

How does IVF work? It involves manually fertilising an egg with sperm in a laboratory so that it can go on to develop into a blastocyst. This is then implanted into the uterus and will hopefully grow into a baby. An IVF cycle can take between three and six weeks depending on the particulars of your treatment. No two women have identical circumstances and as such, every person’s fertility journey will be slightly different.

The IVF process – how does IVF work?

In the first instance, you will have fertility tests and a consultation with your fertility doctor so they can ascertain the best course of action for you. In some cases, you may be required to have more specialised testing. If IVF seems like the best option, and you are happy to go ahead, your cycle will begin. If you are looking for a fertility clinic in London, you can rest assured that there are some of the country’s finest fertility clinics located at your doorstep and finding the right one for you should be straightforward.

Let’s take a look at the different stages involved in a fertility cycle.

Stage 1: Suppressing the natural cycle

The first stage of IVF is to suppress the woman’s natural menstrual cycle. When it comes to IVF, timing is everything. By using medication to initially suppress your natural cycle, your fertility doctor can exercise greater control over the process.

Stage 2: Increasing the number of eggs

The next step is to help your ovaries produce more eggs than normal. This is done with a fertility hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). This hormone increases the number of eggs that your fertility clinic will be able to collect and subsequently means that more blastocysts will be available to choose from for implantation.

Throughout this entire process you will be closely monitored by your fertility doctor and nurses to ensure that you are responding to the fertility drugs as expected. As with any medical treatment there are risks associated with IVF treatment, including Ovarian  Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a dangerous reaction to the hormones.

Stage 3: Maturing the eggs

Once your fertility doctor is happy that enough eggs are ready, they will give you a Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (HCG) injection, also called a ‘trigger injection’. This will mature the eggs to the point where they are ready for collection. This will be carefully timed to coincide with an appointment to collect the eggs.

During this first part of the IVF cycle, you may experience some side effects from the drugs, including bloating, mood fluctuations, depression, headaches, nausea, cramps, and breast tenderness.

Stage 4: Egg collection

At your egg collection appointment, you’ll be lightly sedated and your fertility doctor will use a very fine needle to collect the eggs directly from the ovarian follicles using the guidance from ultrasound. You shouldn’t feel anything and it is a quick procedure that will take around 20 minutes.

Stage 5: Fertilisation

The eggs will immediately be taken to the laboratory where all viable ones will be carefully fertilised by an embryologist using either your partner’s sperm or sperm from your chosen donor.

Once fertilised, they will be placed into an incubator where they will be monitored as they develop. Some clinics may use time lapse imaging, a method of monitoring the embryos without removing them from the controlled environment of the incubator (and exposing them to the risks associated with that). It takes around 6 days for embryos to develop to a point where they can be transferred back into the uterus.

Stage 6: Embryo transfer

Once enough embryos are ready, embryo transfer will take place. This is the transfer of the embryos from the laboratory back into the uterus. Only the most mature embryos will be chosen. Implantation occurs by passing a thin catheter through the cervix and into the uterus where the embryos will be placed.

Stage 7: Pregnancy test

After two weeks, a highly sensitive pregnancy test will be carried out to confirm if the embryo has developed into a pregnancy.

How to prepare for IVF

As with any medical procedure it is important that you are prepared both physically and emotionally. Do as much reading as possible about the procedure, its risks, side effects, and what to expect. We suggest making a list of questions that you want to ask your fertility doctor in advance because sometimes during an appointment you will be given a lot of information and it can be difficult to remember everything.

When it comes to preparing for IVF physically, there are a few things that you can do well in advance of your procedure. This will really help prepare your body for an IVF cycle and ensure that it’s in the best possible place to support a pregnancy. Optimising your nutrition, hydration, and sleep can all be really beneficial.

It can also be helpful to exercise regularly, and eat a Mediterranean diet. It may be worth reducing habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption as these can interfere with the success of your treatment. You can also start taking supplements like a good multivitamin for your baseline health, and folic acid which is an essential nutrient when it comes to supporting pregnancy.

Fertility treatment and IVF

IVF – in fact, any fertility treatment – can be a stressful and emotionally challenging time. As such, it is important to make sure you have a solid support network in the form of family and friends to help support you.

Many couples have undergone successful fertility treatments and were able to start or expand their family with the help of IVF. We wish you the best of luck in your conception journey.

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