Everything You Need to Know Before You Do IVF

When you're having trouble conceiving, in vitro fertilization can often help you get pregnant. Here's what to know, even before your first doctor's visit.

person doing IVF shot
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Making the decision to do in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. On one hand, the procedure puts you a step closer to getting pregnant. On the other, not knowing what to expect and worrying about whether it will work or not—and how much it's going to cost—is stressful. So that you can be prepared, here’s everything you need to know before you do IVF.

IVF Requires a Lot of Work

It's important to understand that the IVF process can be time consuming. “IVF is a labor-intensive process with multiple doctor’s visits,” Eve Feinberg, M.D., medical director of Northwestern Medicine Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Highland Park.

Here’s the IVF process step-by-step: For 10-12 days, you’ll take fertility medications (usually self-administered shots) to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. “During that time, you’ll have to go to the doctor’s office for bloodwork and ultrasounds almost daily,” says Dr. Feinberg.

Once the stimulation phase is done, the doctor will remove the eggs from your ovaries (under general anesthesia) and combine them with your partner’s sperm in a laboratory. Three to five days after the egg retrieval, one or more embryos will be placed back into your uterus (any extras may be frozen for future IVF cycles). Two weeks later, you’ll return to the doctor for a blood pregnancy test to determine if the IVF worked.

Get Your Health In Check Beforehand

Do what you can to manage any health concerns you may have, such as diabetes, obesity, or other chronic conditions. Lifestyle adjustments can also be helpful.

“Achieving a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting tobacco and other substance use can greatly improve IVF success rates,” says Deidre D. Gunn, M.D., an assistant professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Also, try to get medical conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes under control before you attempt to get pregnant.

There Are Ways to Make It More Affordable

A single cycle of IVF (using your own eggs and your partner’s sperm) can cost upwards of $12,000. Most insurance companies don’t cover it. However, some may offer certain fertility benefits, such as coverage for ultrasounds and lab work, even if the procedure itself isn’t covered, Dr. Gunn says.

In addition, fertility clinics work with lenders to offer financing options, some pharmaceutical companies give discounts on medications, and doctors can sometimes provide free samples. There are also some programs, such as the Kevin J. Lederer Life Foundation, founded by Dr. Feinberg, that grant free IVF cycles or financial assistance.

Be Prepared to Have Side Effects

Remember, you’ll be pumped full of hormones, so expect to feel more emotional during your IVF cycle. Minor physical side effects such as pressure, cramping or bloating in the pelvic area, breast tenderness, and discomfort from fertility injections may also occur, says David Diaz, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

In some cases, IVF can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which occurs when the fertility drugs cause a woman to make too many eggs. Symptoms can include weight gain, severe pain or swelling in the abdomen, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. OHSS normally resolves itself; however, if you experience these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

You May Have the Option of Sex Selection

If your IVF cycle includes preimplantation genetic testing, which screens the embryos for chromosomal defects, part of the chromosome report includes the sex of the embryos, says Susan Hudson, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Fertility Center, in New Braunfels. Some clinics will let you choose the sex you prefer to implant, while others don’t and only transfer the best quality embryo, she says.

There’s a Risk of Pregnancy or Birth Complications

Having more than one embryo implanted during IVF raises your chances of getting pregnant with multiples, which increases the risk of premature labor and low birth weight. To reduce that risk, Dr. Diaz recommends getting genetic screening on embryos and then having only one transferred to your uterus.

Babies born from IVF also have around a 1-2 percent higher risk of birth defects than that in the general population. However, Dr. Hudson says, the evidence is getting stronger that this is more likely related to the nature of the infertility than the infertility treatment itself.

IVF Mix-Ups Are Rare

The chance of being implanted with the wrong embryo is very low but it has happened. In July 2019, a New York City couple made headlines after a fertility clinic used another couple's embryos for their IVF procedure. They realized the mistake after giving birth to twins of a different race, and subsequently sued the clinic. An article from TODAY.com put the blame on lack of regulations for fertility clinics.

That said, these mix-ups are extremely rare, but TODAY suggests that couple request to see the embryology file. Research the fertility clinic beforehand, and make sure you trust them to handle your embryos.

IVF Doesn’t Guarantee You’ll Get Pregnant

Unfortunately, IVF doesn’t work for everyone. Some people get pregnant the first time, others need to repeat the process a time or two, and some couples aren’t successful even after multiple attempts. Whether or not IVF is successful depends mostly on your age, Dr. Feinberg says. According to the latest national data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), the IVF success rate for people using their own eggs was 48 percent for those under age 35 and dropped to only 3 percent for people over age 42.

SART’s fertility calculator can help predict your chances of success based on your personal situation and fertility diagnosis.

There Are Other Options If IVF Doesn't Work

If your odds of achieving pregnancy through IVF are low (or you’ve already tried a cycle or two unsuccessfully), there are other options to consider, including using donor eggs, donor embryos [from families who used IVF and donated their spare embryos after completing their family], or donor sperm, Dr. Hudson says. That means it’s still possible for your baby dreams to come true.

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