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Up to Six IVF Cycles Equal Better Chance for Baby, Says Study

Do more IVF cycles mean a better chance for baby? A new British study says "yes."

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A new British study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds couples have a better chance of conceiving a baby with more than the typical three or four in vitro fertilization cycles. In fact, it may take up to six to achieve success.

To reach their conclusions, researchers looked at more than 157,000 women with an average age of 35 who had tried to get pregnant for about four years. Almost 30 percent had a baby after a first IVF cycle; 32 percent of those women under 40 had a baby.

Couples had a baby at about a 20 percent success rate through four cycles, but by the sixth cycle, the success rate jumped to 68 percent! Women over 40 had a baby 31.5 percent of the time by the sixth cycle. By age 42 however, the rate was just four percent even after six cycles.

It's worth mentioning the success rates were not impacted by the use of donor eggs. Also, importantly, researchers found the number of eggs retrieved after ovarian stimulation in one cycle did not seem to influence the live birth success rate from later cycles.

Explains lead researcher Debbie Lawlor from the University of Bristol, "It is also not true that if there is a small egg yield in one treatment cycle it is not worth continuing with more treatments." She adds, "IVF should be thought of as a relatively long-term treatment, with repeat treatment cycles if success is not immediate."

Lawlor admits, "This will take on average two years. Not all couples will want this repeat treatment, and some health care systems, insurance companies and individuals may not be able to afford it. But we believe couples should know what the possibilities are."

Given the expense of IVF, only about 5 percent of couples in the U.S. who are experiencing infertility seek it out according to WebMD. An average cycle costs between $12,000 and $15,000 and many insurance plans do not cover it.

But this study makes it seem that if you have enough money, the sky's the limit when it comes to how many cycles you can undergo. Just keep trying until you get pregnant, right? But women should know multiple IVF cycles carry risks, from premature delivery and low birth weight, to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, where the ovaries become swollen and painful due to the hormone injections needed to stimulate egg production, to an increased risk of miscarriage, and ovarian cancer. And the older you are, the less likely it is IVF will be successful.

The right number of IVF cycles to try, and at what intervals, is a conversation to have with a fertility specialist.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.