What is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)?
Around Australia, the dream of starting a family and bringing a child into the world isn’t such an easy one. Many women face troubles with conceiving for a variety of reasons. For heterosexuals experiencing fertility issues, single women starting a family, and same-sex couples wanting to conceive, IVF is an option that many turn to.
Intra Vitro Fertilisation, more commonly referred to as IVF, is a medical procedure in which reproduction is supported using technology. In this procedure, the egg from the female is fertilised by sperm from a male outside of the uterus.
When IVF is determined as the best course of action for a woman, there are bound to be endless questions that arise. This guide is designed to outline some of the main concerns about IVF and fill in some missing details.
Of course, the best way to get the right information about IVF and how the procedure will affect your life is by talking to your doctor. Remember, any genetic or medical or lifestyle conditions need to be discussed in detail with your doctor to make sure that IVF is right.
What is IVF?
IVF falls under the category of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). There are many technologies such as IVF which assist people to reproduce if they have trouble naturally conceiving.
The process of IVF is different to other ARTs. It involves taking eggs (ova) from the woman and fertilising it outside the womb. This is done by retrieving a sperm sample from a male, either a known partner or an unknown donor. The egg and the sperm are then manually fertilised in a laboratory dish.
If fertilisation is successful inside the laboratory, the fertilised egg is then surgically transferred to the uterus. From here, the embryo grows into a baby as per the normal pregnancy timeline.
IVF is one of the most popular and commonly used forms of ART for many reasons. Others include gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) and zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT). There is also artificial insemination (AI).
Who needs IVF?
There are many reasons why couples (both heterosexual and same-sex) or singles seek out IVF. The reproductive system, although biologically systemized, doesn’t always work the way that it should. Many lifestyle, health, or dietary factors can have a negative impact on natural conception. Thankfully, there are many technologies available today, such as IVF, which can help all people reach their fertility dreams.
Some common causes of infertility which lead to requiring IVF include:
· Damaged fallopian tubes
· Fallopian tubes that are blocked
· Male infertility such as decreased sperm count
· Ovulation disorders in women
· Premature ovarian failure
· Uterine fibroids in women
· Genetic disorders that lead to infertility
· Known health concerns
· Unexplained infertility
Around Australia, IVF is available to all people upon referral from a fertility specialist or doctor. Many same-sex couples seek out IVF either using a known or unknown sperm donor (for women).
IVF can make a huge positive different to the lives of many by granting them the gift of conception. Typically, IVF takes place after many fertility diagnostics and assessment to find out if this is the right treatment for certain individuals. In some cases, such as health concerns or cancer recovery patients, IVF will not be recommended by a fertility specialist.
When is the right time to seek out IVF?
Realizing that infertility is a problem can be emotionally distressing. It can cause many frustrations for couples. Similarly, deciding to pursue fertility options for singles can a taxing journey. This is why IVF is only recommended after numerous consultations with fertility doctors and specialists. There are also fertility counsellors which doctors can recommend patients to depending how your journey pans out.
Infertility is typically defined as being an issue after trying to conceive for 6 months to a year. This is true for women who experience regular menstrual cycles and have had no previous with irregularities with their period or uterus.
It is also important to remember that infertility is more common in women aged 35 and above. This is due to a nature decline in fertility after this age. The eggs that are released from the ova after this age are naturally less fertile. However, it is still possible to conceive naturally, although IVF and other ART treatments are more commonly used for older women.
Infertility is first explored and evaluated by visiting a general practitioner doctor, an obstetrician or gynaecologist, or a reproductive endocrinologist after referral. IVF is recommended and the treatment carried out after a long evaluation and referral period. It is important that many fertility tests are carried out throughout this time so that the doctor can be absolutely sure this is the right procedure for you.
Are there risks and side effects of IVF?
The technology behind IVF has evolved and advanced over the years. Today, it is a relatively safe and complication-free procedure. It is used commonly around the developed world and there are rarely side effects that stem from IVF.
That being said, given this is a medical procedure, some people can have adverse reactions to some of the medications used. These are generally mild and not life-threatening. However, if any problems do persist before, during, or after an IVF cycle, it is important that you speak to your doctor immediately. It is always better to be safe than sorry with these things!
Some issues that patients experience associated with IVF include:
· Passing of a light fluid, either clear or blood, after the initial procedure
· Mild cramping for a few days
· Mild bloating
· Constipation for some time after the procedure
· Tender breasts
Some more serious side effects that require immediate attention include:
· Vaginal bleeding of any measure
· Pain around the pelvic area
· Blood in urine or stool
· A fever or hot flushes over 38 degrees Celsius
There are also fertility medications that need to be taken alongside IVF cycles. These can also cause some side effects that are not particularly severe. Some women have experiences headaches, mood swings, bloating, and mild abdominal pain as a result of the medications. They aren’t usually something to worry about, but if something feels uncomfortable or severe, it is important to consult your doctor straight away.
What does IVF care require before and after?
Although it is relatively simple, IVF is still a serious medical treatment so you need to take care of yourself before and after treatment. IVF can run for many monthly cycles until a successful conception so being in optimal condition each time can help boost the chances of success.
To help increase the chances of IVF working as quickly as possible, there are some things that are recommended. Of course, everyone is different so make sure you chat with your specific fertility doctor to make sure certain things are worth trying for your unique case.
In general, some of these things can help increase the chances of conceiving:
· Take folic acid in the form of a multivitamin
· Try to avoid coughing or sneezing during and immediately after the transfer
· Relax and try to laugh after the procedure – the endorphins can help success implantation
· Eat and drink healthy leading up to the transfer and after
· Avoid caffeine and alcohol throughout treatments
After the first round of IVF, it is important to maintain a healthy body and mind to ensure a successful implantation. There are some things you can do to after a treatment to take care of yourself in the best way possible.
First, try to rest as much as possible. While you shouldn’t confine yourself bed in the days following a treatment, do try to get some down time and take it easy. Avoiding intense, strenuous exercise is a good idea. Also, refrain from vigorous sexual intercourse. The ovaries are pretty tender and inflamed immediately after an IVF transfer to keeping high impact away from them is advisable.
Make sure your diet and mealtimes are jam-packed with nutritional goodness. Eating as if you’re already pregnant is the type of regime to plan for. Keeping up folate, iron, and getting a well-balanced spread of vitamins and minerals in the body can make the womb more hospitable for a successful pregnancy.
Remember, it is important to talk about how you’re feeling after an IVF cycle. Emotions can be running thanks to the hormones and medications required for each cycle. Make sure you have a close group of friends around and talk to your family members or partner as much as possible about how things felt and are feeling.
How successful is IVF and what contributes to the success?
Given that IVF is very much a case-by-case procedure, it is hard to say an overall success rate. The success rate depends on many factors and varies person by person. It is worth having a chat with your fertility specialist about the success rates they have had at their particular clinic.
Some information that fertility clinics generally have available to the public include:
· Pregnancy ratio per embryo transfer
· Pregnancy rate for couple’s age group
· Live birth rate per IVF cycles
· Rate of patients pregnant with multiples
There are some biological factors that will determine the chances of success for IVF treatment. For instance, IVF is more successful in younger women, aged below 35. Since natural fertility decreases on its own as women get older, the chances of IVF lessen significantly past the age of 35. That being said, there are many successful cases of women conceiving a child through IVF aged in their 40s.
Other things that determine the success of IVF are pre-known medical conditions. If you have had any health problems, suffered from cancer, or have a genetic history of trouble conceiving, these may have a predetermining role. This will all be reviewed throughout the case with your fertility specialists throughout their investigations.
Another factor to consider are past pregnancies and/or miscarriages. If you have been pregnant before but did not carry a baby to full term for whatever reason, this can lessen the success of pregnancy. It is important to bring any past pregnancies and miscarriages to the attention of your fertility specialist straight away.
There are also health concerns that can impact on whether or not IVF will be successful. Some of these include:
· Uterine fibroids or tumours
· Ovarian dysfunction
· Male infertility and female infertility combined
As well as health concerns, lifestyle factors also come into play. IVF has less chances of success when the person undergoing the treatment smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol excessively, and is overweight or obese.
Finally, the place where the treatment is taking place plays a role in the IVF success.
Be sure to look out for some of these things when choosing a fertility specialist and IVF laboratory:
· The degree and qualification of the doctor
· How good the air quality, heating, and ventilation systems are in the lab
· The temperature and lighting of the room
· General cleanliness of the laboratory
What can you do to help IVF and boost the chances of success?
No doubt, when you’re undergoing an IVF treatment, you want the best outcome possible. Despite so many factors that are out of your control impacting on IVF treatments, there are many things you can do to boost the chances of success. Before, during, and after and IVF cycle, ensure that you follow some of these simple practices at home to give your body the best chance for conception through IVF.
The first thing to look at is diet. It is important to eat healthy and maintain a balanced diet. This means that lots of leafy greens, fresh vegetables, and plenty of fruit should be making their way into your body each day. It is also advisable to quit the caffeine and put any alcoholic beverages aside while trying to conceive through IVF, as you would a typical pregnancy.
Lifestyle plays a big role in getting pregnant under any circumstances. This means having your body at its optimal weight and not being overweight or obese is important. You don’t have to be supermodel thin of course, but keeping off any excess and unnecessary kilos can help the body prepare for a success IVF treatment.
Many people look into using acupuncture when going through IVF cycles. There is much evidence that suggests acupuncture can help balance the body, promote blood flow to the reproductive organs, and encourage relaxation throughout the body to boost chances of conceiving through IVF. Around Australia, there are many acupuncture fertility specialists who work in this field and help patients have a successful IVF cycle. It is worth asking your fertility specialist if they recommend this and have a good acupuncturist they know.
For couples, it is recommended to continue having sex as per usual. This is an important time to maintain a physical connection so don’t be afraid to spend time together between the sheets. That being said, verbal communication is also crucial and you should both go to extra effort to communicate feelings and discuss the journey that you’re on.
For singles going through IVF, be sure to have a solid support network. Feeling connection and avoiding isolation will help keep stress and anxiety levels down. If you feel stressed, anxious, and alone, it can lower the chances of IVF working well.
On the actual day of the transfer, make sure to eat plenty of warm foods to keep the abdomen cosy. Think about packing lots of nutrients into the body via a warm and tasty soup. You can also bring a heat pack to keep your stomach warm and calm. Make sure to rest as much as possible to keep your cortisol levels down before the procedure.
Who are main IVF providers in Australia?
Many couples seek IVF treatment and understandably, they want to know they are going through a quality provider. All IVF providers in Australia undergo rigorous testing to make sure their procedures are up to scratch.
Most IVF providers are private companies working under an umbrella company covering wider fertility issues.
Some of the main names that come up on the IVF scene around Australia include:
· IVF Australia
· Genea IVF
· Monash IVF
· Primary IVF (offers bulk-billing services)
While the overall service of the main clinics is the same (that being IVF treatment), there are some things that differ, such as the fees and the bulk-billing options. It is important to thoroughly discuss with your fertility specialist and the clinic itself what the fees will be. They can vary on a case-by-case basis and depending on circumstances, some out-of-pocket fees may be covered by insurance or bulk-billing methods.
Other things to know before getting IVF
If IVF has been determined as the best pathway for your infertility journey, here are some final pointers to bear in mind:
· There is a difference between successful pregnancy rates and live birth rates. Be aware of the different statistics from varying clinics.
· “Budget clinics” are not “cheap and nasty options”, rather they use low-dose hormone stimulation products which means that patients spend less on drugs. Just be aware of what you are getting into with the fees of any clinic.
· Embryos are highly sensitive to laboratory conditions so make sure you choose a clinic with a top-notch lab!
· Health, diet, and lifestyle play a huge role in IVF success so do yourself a favour and get into prime condition before undergoing IVF.
· Consider looking into fertility acupuncture to boost the chances of IVF. It is also a great way to relax and ease the stress of the IVF journey.
· Remember, don’t go to an IVF clinic unless you’ve been recommended by a fertility specialist. There might be another answer out there for your infertility problems before consulting IVF.
Hopefully, you have learnt more about IVF treatment and what the process involves. It will be up to a fertility doctor to review your infertility case and determine whether IVF is the most suitable course of action. Remember, there are many other reproductive technologies available if IVF isn’t the right one for you.
If you do go down the pathway of IVF, remember to keep a healthy lifestyle, balanced diet, and exercise lightly and regularly to keep your body in optimal shape. The best way to conceive a child through any method is to take care of yourself first.
IVF can be an emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing journey. Be sure to have open communication with your partner or a close friend and have a strong support network to keep you feeling happy and positive throughout the journey.