A Step By Step Overview of the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) Process
“In vitro fertilization” or IVF treatments refers to a medical process that has helped millions of couples around the world to experience the joy of having their own babies. Practiced for more than three decades across the world, IVF is a safe and trusted medical treatment, and its success rate is impressive.
In the simplest terms, IVF can be described as a woman’s eggs being extracted, fertilized in a laboratory and returned to the uterus. However, such as simple description obscures the fact that IVF treatment is not a single procedure, but rather a process that involves a number of steps that span over a time period of 28 days.
This can be quite a daunting journey! However, however, when you undertake your IVF journey at Cape Fertility, you will enjoy truly individualised and personalised care from a team of fertility experts who will guide and support you every step of the way.
The Steps in the IVF Process
In short, we can summarise the steps during IVF treatment as follows:
* The first step is a course of fertility medications to stimulate egg growth, followed by careful monitoring.
* Next, the eggs are surgically removed from the ovary.
* In the lab, the eggs are mixed with sperm to be fertilized.
* Three to five days later, the fertilized eggs, called embryos, are transferred into the women’s uterus.
* The last step is a blood test to establish if a pregnancy has been achieved.
* Below is a full overview of the steps involved in a typical IVF treatment cycle at Cape Fertility and provides a realistic picture of the steps in the IVF process.
Step 1 – Fertility medications
The first step in IVF treatment is taking fertility medications to stimulate egg growth within the first two to three days of your cycle. These medications may include tablets or fertility injections containing FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), which you can easily administer yourself.
During this time, you will also take medication to suppress normal pituitary function and prevent the eggs from being ovulated before it is time for egg collection.
Most women have no or minimal side effects. Possible side effects of fertility drugs are headaches, nausea, painful breasts, mood swings, bloated feeling and increased vaginal discharge. Serious side effects are rare, but the most common is enlarged ovaries. Fortunately, with modern medicine, this can be avoided in most cases.
Step 2 – Monitoring
The next step is carefully monitoring your IVF treatment cycle through blood tests and ultrasound scans, usually starting on Day 8 of your cycle.
On Day 8, you will have the first scan with your fertility specialist. Using an ultrasound scan, your specialist will be able to see the follicles containing eggs.
On Day 10 of your cycle, you will have a second scan to closely monitor the development of the follicles and any reactions you may have to the medication.
A third scan will be done on Day 12. If the eggs are ready for collection, you will have a trigger injection in the evening. The eggs are triggered for ovulation through an injection 36 hours prior to the egg collection.
Step 3 – Egg collection
Step 3 is an important milestone – this is when the eggs are retrieved. It usually happens on Day 14.
At Cape Fertility, the egg collection procedure is performed safely under sedation in our custom-designed procedure room. Under anaesthetic, you will not feel anything.
A transvaginal ultrasound is performed, and the eggs are extracted with a fine needle attached to the ultrasound.
Progesterone hormone is given after the egg collection to prepare the lining of the uterus (womb) for the embryo transfer. This may be given as a vaginal gel, pills inserted vaginally, vaginal pessaries, an injection or oral tablets.
Step 4 – Embryo development
In our laboratory, right next to our procedure room, the fluid collected is examined under a microscope to check how many eggs were retrieved. The eggs are then fertilized by mixing it with sperm.
For the next three to five days, the fertilized eggs – called embryos – are nurtured under controlled conditions in the laboratory. Thanks to new techniques of embryo culture, embryos can now be grown in the laboratory longer until they reach the blastocyst stage (on day 5 in the lab). These better quality embryos can be chosen for transfer into the uterus.
This means that fewer embryos – usually one or two – can be transferred with excellent success rates, while the chance of a multiple pregnancy is reduced. If there are more than two quality embryos, the others can be frozen (cryopreserved) and stored in liquid nitrogen to be used in future treatment cycles.
Step 5 – Embryo Transfer
The next step is a special occasion – the day the fertilised eggs (embryos) are transferred into the womb!
This embryo transfer is a painless procedure performed in our special procedure room at Cape Fertility. A speculum inserted into the vagina allows the specialist to visualize the cervix and a thin plastic tube is used to transfer the embryos directly into the uterine cavity. An ultrasound scan is performed to make sure the embryos are transferred into the correct place.
Step 6 – The pregnancy test
In a final step in the IVF cycle, a pregnancy test can be done around Day 28. It is a blood test and is done 14 days after the egg collection.
Support on Each Step of your IVF Journey
So many steps and procedures over so many days may seem a long and difficult journey.
However, at Cape Fertility you will find a team of world-leading fertility experts to support you every step of the way. This includes your highly qualified and well-experienced reproductive specialist and your own IVF co-ordinator, with a 4-year University Degree as Bachelor of Nursing (or equivalent) and many years of experience in fertility and IVF treatment. Your IVF co-ordinator will guide you through every one of the various steps of the IVF process, plan your treatment dates and monitoring, show you exactly how the medications should be taken and answer the practical questions you may have while offering advice and support.
All the procedures in the IVF process are done at our purpose-built premises in Claremont, in the beautiful City of Cape Town. Adjacent to our Main Reception and Staff Offices, we have an IVF Procedure Room, a modern, sophisticated Laboratory and an Embryo Transfer room. These facilities, along with our experienced team, ensure all the latest Assisted Conception Techniques, including IVF, are used with great success at Cape Fertility.
At Cape Fertility you will also find patient-friendly protocols, and your own customised step-by-step cycle sheet, describing exactly what happens during each step, and when and how each step must be completed – from the medications that should be taken to when the monitoring and pregnancy test needs to be done.
Your next step to IVF treatment is simply to contact us by clicking here…
At Cape Fertility, we value each individual patient and we look forward to providing you with our signature individualised and personalised care during every step of your IVF journey!