IVF is the shortened name for In Vitro Fertilisation. Literally this means fertilisation of an egg by a sperm in a laboratory, instead of taking place inside the body. Once the egg is fertilised it becomes an embryo. The embryo is grown for several days under the watchful eye of embryologists, before it is put back into the womb to grow into a baby.
The first baby was born following IVF fertility treatment in 1978. Fertility clinics have a regulatory body known as the HFEA. Since the HFEA started its records in 1991, 1.3 million cycles of IVF have taken place in the UK and 390,000 babies have been born. Worldwide there have been at least 8 million IVF cycles! About 70,000 IVF cycles take place each year in the UK.
IVF starts with preparation. Careful assessment of both partners to make sure health is optimised and any important issues identified prior to starting treatment. This involves finding out about medical history, some blood tests, sperm test and a scan. Then treatment will be planned, tailored to the individual.
To collect sperm is relatively simple and this can be frozen ready for use later. The sperm needs to reach the lab within 1 hour of production. So men can provide a sample in the clinic, or if they live close enough, at home – but an appointment is needed so that the lab team are expecting the sample and can swiftly analyse and freeze it.
Collecting eggs is more complicated as women usually only release 1 egg with each natural menstrual cycle. So to increase the number of eggs the ovaries have to be stimulated to grow lots of eggs, using medications. This typically involves tablets, injections and sometimes nasal sprays and can take several weeks depending on the type of regime chosen. Monitoring scans are done at the next period after medications have started to make sure the body is ready to start stimulation. Then again usually every 1-3 days during the growth of the eggs to check the medications are at the right level and in order to time the egg collection right. Once there are several eggs of a big enough size, they are collected during a minor day case procedure, under sedation through the vagina.
Once the eggs are collected it is over to the embryologists who use the sperm to create embryos. Sometimes the sperm is injected into the eggs, this is called ICSI. The embryos are looked after in a laboratory in special culture medium within incubators kept at the right temperature for several days with close monitoring. Once they have reached the right size, embryologists will select the best one to transfer back to the womb. This involves another procedure called embryo transfer.
An embryo transfer is done with the lady awake. It is similar to having a smear test done but is done in theatre with a team present and lots of checks in place to make sure it all goes smoothly. After the transfer sometimes cramps can be felt which is normal. A pregnancy test is done at home 2 weeks later to see if the treatment has been successful.
We are very lucky to live in a time when such fantastic treatment is available, to help people grow their families. Over the years IVF has become steadily more and more successful and also safer. Complications such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and twin pregnancy related problems are now much rarer than they used to be thanks to the brilliant work of fertility doctors, nurses, embryologists and scientists who continually strive to push forwards fertility techniques, for the benefit of us all.
If you live in Taunton, Bridgwater, Yeovil and the surrounding areas in our beautiful county of Somerset and are thinking about having fertility treatment, book a free fertility information telephone call with our fertility nurses to find out how our fertility satellite clinic in Bridgwater can help you.