Fertility Blog

Understanding the Basics of IVF: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you’re exploring fertility treatment options, you’ll likely consider in vitro fertilization {IVF}, as it’s enabled millions of individuals and couples to achieve their family dreams. Learn more about the basics of IVF and the six key steps involved.

What is IVF?

IVF is considered the most common form of assisted reproductive technology (ART). With IVF, a woman's healthy, mature eggs and a man's sperm are fertilized outside of the body in a laboratory dish. Once fertilized, the eggs are closely monitored, and after an embryo (or embryos) has formed, typically in about 2-5 days, it’s placed into the recipient’s uterus.

Who Would Benefit From IVF?

Since its introduction in 1978, IVF has become safer and more effective, boasting the highest fertility treatment success rate. While it may not be the treatment path for everyone, among those who may benefit are:

  • Same-sex couples using a donor.
  • People at risk for genetic diseases causing pregnancy loss.
  • Women with fertility issues, such as those affecting ovulation or the uterus.
  • Men with fertility issues, like low sperm counts.

Breaking Down the IVF Procedure

Step #1: Fertility Testing and Diagnostics

You will first discuss your family-building goals with your healthcare provider(s). This could be a primary care doctor, although women may be treated by an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN), and men may be treated by a urologist. Your full medical histories and complete diagnostic workups will be taken. Men will also receive a semen analysis.

Step #2: Ovarian Stimulation and Monitoring

Before your first IVF cycle, you’ll receive fertility medication that stimulates your ovaries to produce more mature eggs. Your doctor will complete blood work, a pelvic exam, and transvaginal ultrasounds to monitor your ovaries’ response to medications and determine any dosage adjustments. You’ll receive a final injection to complete your eggs’ growth before removal.

Step #3: Egg Retrieval

The egg (ovum) retrieval procedure is minimally invasive, takes less than 15 minutes, and can be done in the fertility clinic. You’ll be lightly sedated, enabling the fertility specialist to extract mature eggs from your ovaries, using ultrasound guidance.

Step #4: Sperm Collection

On the morning of your egg retrieval, your male partner or donor will provide a semen sample. If frozen, it will be thawed and prepared for fertilization.

Step #5: Fertilization and Embryo Testing

Upon the egg retrieval’s completion, an embryologist, responsible for all complex lab procedures, places the retrieved eggs and sperm in a petri dish. Over 4 days, they fertilize the eggs with sperm, using a high-powered microscope. The fertilized egg, or zygote, possesses the 46 necessary chromosomes: 23 each from the egg and sperm. The zygote divides rapidly, in a process called mitosis, and around the fifth day, it becomes a blastocyst, a cell ball. The blastocyte’s inner cell group eventually becomes the embryo, with the outer cell group nourishing and protecting it.

For any fertilization or sperm quantity or quality issues, the embryologist may perform Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), in which a very fine needle injects a single healthy sperm into each egg cell to initiate fertilization. You may also undergo Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT), to test embryos for specific genetic abnormalities, which is usually done following fertilization.

Step #6: Embryo Transfer

The healthiest embryo is selected for uterine placement. You may undergo a frozen embryo transfer (FET), involving taking fertility medications to prepare the uterus for optimal implantation or to track ovulation. The fertility physician, using ultrasound, guides a small catheter through your cervix to implant the embryo into your uterus; additional viable embryos may be frozen for future use. While generally painless, you may have mild cramping. About two weeks later, you’ll return to the clinic for a pregnancy test.

Understanding IVF Is Vital for Aspiring Parents

IVF has enabled millions to realize their family dreams, but as it’s complex, familiarizing yourself may help you to prepare. If you’re interested in IVF or have questions, please contact us for an appointment.