While most of us have heard about IVF, not many people know exactly how the process works.
IVF can be broken down into six parts from pre-cycle appointments and preparations through the pregnancy test making understanding the process just a little bit easier. Whether you're just starting to search fertility treatments or are already a patient planning to begin IVF, knowing more about the treatment can reduce your anxiety and make your journey feel less complicated.
Step One: Pre-Cycle Appointments and Preparing the Ovaries for Stimulation
In preparation for an IVF cycle, you will undergo a Mock Embryo Transfer. This procedure is a "practice run" for the embryo transfer and allows the doctor to test the size and placement of the catheter with your particular anatomy before the big day. During the procedure an ultra-thin catheter is inserted into the uterus while a sonogram guides the process on a monitor. Many patient compare the Mock Embryo Transfer to a pap smear, it is relatively painless and takes only a few minutes.
Following the completion of the pre-cycle testing, you will meet with your doctor to review the results and plan their protocol for treatment. The protocol is like a blueprint that is used by you and your medical team. It is important to remember this plan which provides tentative dates; frequently, treatment timelines will need to be adjusted based on how you respond to medication; you should anticipate changes and block time as needed in your work and travel schedules.
Many women start an IVF cycle by taking birth control pills for a set number of days, to help:
In a normal ovulation cycle, one egg usually matures per month. In an IVF cycle, the goal is to have as many mature eggs as possible, as this will increase your odds of success with treatment. In the stimulation phase of the IVF cycle, injectable medications are used for approximately 8-14 days to stimulate the ovaries and produce more eggs.
Stimulation medications are derivatives from the hormones FSH and LH, which are the natural hormones involved in the natural ovulation process. Some protocols use one or the other of these hormones exclusively and many use a combination.
During the ovarian stimulation phase, you will come to our centre approximately 7-8 times for morning monitoring appointments. Monitoring appointments consists of:
After each monitoring appointment, you will receive a phone call from our team of doctors, usually in the afternoon. It is extremely useful to be available to speak with the nurse when she calls to make sure you receive the important instructions and clarify any aspects of your care. During the update your doctor will inform you of the progress of your cycle, medication modifications, and when you should return for the next monitoring appointment. This is also an opportunity for you to ask any questions about your cycle, test results and any side effects that you may be having.
Step Three: The Trigger Shot and Egg Retrieval
The stimulation phase ends with a trigger shot. The trigger shot provides final maturation to the developing follicles and sets ovulation in motion. Timing is crucial in this phase because the egg retrieval must be performed prior to the expected time of ovulation. The doctor decides when you are ready for trigger based on the two key factors that have been monitored during the stimulation phase:
At our center, egg retrieval is done approximately 36 hours after the trigger shot. Husband’s semen is collected on the day of egg retrieval or if he is unlikely to be available on the suitable date (out-of-state or international patients) previously frozen sample will be used.
On the day of egg retrieval, you will meet the anesthetist at our center, who will review your medical history and do a general physical examination. An intra-venous line will be started that will deliver the anesthesia medication. Only very short acting drugs are used for this purpose so that you are awake by the time procedure is over. After 4 hours' of observation, you are fit to go home.
The egg retrieval itself takes only about 20-30 minutes. During the procedure, ultrasound is used to guide a needle into each ovary and remove the follicular fluid containing eggs.
At Urogyn, we understand the delicacy of emotional aspect between husband and wife. Hence, we have completely segregated IVF lab from the clinic area by dedicating a separate floor to it. Attendants are not allowed entry to the IVF laboratory floor, thus, making young ladies feel more comfortable. We have taken special precautions in employing only female staff for IVF lab floor as for as possible.
Step Four: Inside the Lab: Embryo Development
After collecting husband's semen and wife's eggs, these genetic materials are handed over to the embryology team for the process of fertilization. There are two ways by which fertilization can be made to occur:
The decision about which method to use is based on the quality of the sperm. To test sperm, an analysis is completed as part of the initial basic fertility work-up for diagnosis before treatment and then again when the semen sample is provided on the day of the egg retrieval. If the results from this analysis do not meet the parameters required for conventional fertilization, the embryologist will make the decision to switch to ICSI so that the cycle can still produce embryos and increase your chances of success. The clinical team will let you know if an unplanned ICSI procedure is recommended.
Once fertilization occurs, the embryos begin to develop. Every morning for the next 3 to 7 days, embryologist examines the developing embryos and adds notes in your record regarding each individual embryo. Your doctor will follow-up daily with your fertilization report updating you on the status of each growing embryo and the recommendations for either a day 3 or a day 5 embryo transfer.
Step Five: Embryo Transfer
The embryo transfer (ET) is a simple procedure that takes about 10 minutes to complete. There's no anesthesia, and hence no recovery time. When your transfer is scheduled, nurse will notify you, and provide specific instructions on when to arrive and how to prepare.
On the morning of transfer, embryologist will make a final assessment of your embryos and provide a recommendation on the number of embryos to be transferred. These recommendations are based on overall embryo quality and age of embryos, day 3 or day 5-7 blastocyst stage embryos. Your IVF specialist will use the information provided by the embryologist and other factors related to your case such as your age and history of previous treatments to make a final call on embryo transfer.
At times, when patients meet specific criteria, IVF Specialist suggest Single Elective Embryo Transfer (eSET). eSET is the transfer of a single embryo, usually at blastocyst stage, despite having many available. Transferring one high quality embryo is found to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancies while maintaining a similar chance of successful IVF cycle. Patient criteria for eSET:
Prior to start of embryo transfer, patient reviews her cycle with the IVF Specialist and a final decision regarding the appropriate number of embryos to be transferred is made along with what to do with remaining embryos, if any. Once the number of embryos to be transferred is determined, inside the laboratory, embryologist will verify all identifiers, such as your name, identification number, and compare them to the embryo culture dish and corresponding egg data-sheet. Then, transfer catheter is loaded with the appropriate number of embryos. Upon entering the transfer room, the embryologist will state your name along with your husband's name and the number of embryos in the catheter for repeat confirmation to avoid remote possibility of error.
During transfer, IVF specialist will insert the loaded catheter and push the plunger to place the embryos into the uterus with a small puff of air. The procedure is visually guided on a monitor with abdominal ultrasound. Once transferred, doctor will slowly remove the catheter to eliminate or decrease any uterine contractions. Since embryo is invisible to naked eye, embryologist will then check the catheter under microscope to make sure that the embryo was released. You will be asked to lie quietly for 5 minutes after ET. Then, you'll be advised instructions for the coming 2 weeks until it's time for pregnancy test.
Step Six: The Pregnancy Test
Pregnancy test is done at around 14 days after the embryo transfer(ET). Unlike a home pregnancy test, blood is drawn and beta-hCG level is measured. A beta-hCG level of over 100 is considered to be positive although many on-going pregnancies start out with a beta-hCG level below 100. You may be asked to repeat the test in 2-3 days. Under normal circumstances, we expect beta-hCG to double every 2 days. If it does, another beta-hCG may be ordered. If all 3 tests are favourable, then a trans-vaginal ultrasound will be scheduled between 6th and 8th weeks of pregnancy. By this time, your doctor will be looking for heart-beat in a gestational sac to confirm healthy pregnancy. Once healthy pregnancy is confirmed, the patient is considered “graduated” and she is subjected to continuing obstetric care.
If the cycle results in a negative pregnancy test, it's very disappointing. It is important to remember, you have a treatment plan with options for trying again. Your doctor will start by instructing you to stop medications and offer you to plan for a repeat cycle. At that time, you'll discuss what happened during the cycle; any changes you might make to your protocol, and ultimately how you want to proceed.