In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a means of assisted reproduction that combines a man’s sperm with a woman’s egg in a laboratory dish. Once fertilized, the egg can be tested for genetic disorders. One or more of the embryos are transferred to the woman’s uterus, where they hopefully will implant and develop into a normal pregnancy. Unused embryos can be preserved by being frozen (cryopreservation) for future use.
Since the birth of the first IVF baby in 1978, 4 million babies worldwide have been born with the assistance of IVF. In 2010, IVF pioneer Robert Edwards won the Nobel Prize for medicine. Long-term studies have shown IVF children are just as healthy and intelligent as children conceived normally.
IVF treatment is one of the most popular and most recommended for achieving pregnancy because it has the highest success rate of all the infertility treatment options. Conception rates for younger couples trying to achieve pregnancy naturally are 20 to 25 percent. Currently, the national pregnancy rate average with IVF is better than one in three, and can be as high as 40 to 45 percent depending on the woman’s age.
At first, IVF was use to treat women with blocked, damaged, or absent fallopian tubes. Today, however, IVF is used to treat many causes of infertility. Medical advancements have also enabled doctors to successfully implant only one embryo at a time, which decreases the health risks to both mother and babies associated with multiples.
IVF may be the best initial option if a woman has absent or non-functional fallopian tubes or if the male partner has extremely low sperm counts. In other cases, other fertility treatments, like intrauterine insemination, may be tried first and, if unsuccessful, IVF is the next step. IVF can also be used when embryo genetic diagnosis is desirable or necessary to ensure the baby does not inherit genetic diseases from either parent. IVF also supports conception for women in their late 30s and early 40s who may not have been able to become pregnant on their own.
When used with donor sperm and/or donor eggs, IVF allows men and women to have a chance at pregnancy, birth, and biological parenthood who would otherwise have no way of experiencing pregnancy, such as same sex couples and “choice moms” (single women choosing to become mothers).
For some situations IVF may be suggested as the first-line treatment. In other cases, IVF is recommended only if simpler treatment fails. The most common conditions for which IVF is typically recommended include: