What is IVF?


IVF stands for “in vitro fertilization” and 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. Parents of babies born following in vitro fertilization often describe their babies as “miracles” and “dreams come true”.

History of IVF

The in vitro fertilization procedure was pioneered in the UK in 1978 by Sir Robert Edwards, along with his colleagues – embryologist Jean Purdy and gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe.

As early as 1958, Sir Robert realised that fertilisation outside of the body could be used to help treat infertility. He and his collaborators faced significant challenges, including criticism from religious leaders, ethicists and the medical establishment.

Although at times coming close to giving up, the team was encouraged by the letters received from many couples struggling to conceive. After 20 years of work and dedication, on 25 July 1978, Louise Brown – the world’s first IVF baby – was born to parents Lesley and John Brown.

Since then, an estimated eight million babies have been born thanks to IVF treatment.

Despite the initial criticism of his work, Sir Robert was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the development of in vitro fertilization treatment. He was delighted with the recognition of his team’s research work over many years to help millions of couples throughout the world overcome the burden of infertility. A year later, in 2011, Sir Robert was also knighted for his contribution and services to human reproductive biology.

What does IVF entail?

In vitro fertilization – or IVF as it is often called – is a type of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that is used to treat fertility or genetic problems to help couples to conceive a child.

Very simply stated, during in vitro fertilization the female partner’s eggs (ovum) are collected and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. The embryo is then implanted into the uterus.

Because the egg is fertilized in a lab, babies resulting from IVF treatments were often referred to as “test-tube babies”. Because IVF made it possible to conceive a child where it was medically impossible before, parents of babies born following in vitro fertilization describe their children as “miracles” and “dreams come true”.

While the process sounds relatively simple, it is important to understand that IVF is not a single medical procedure or event, but a series of detailed and delicate procedures that are completed over a number of weeks. From the first day of the cycle to the pregnancy test completed 14 days after the egg retrieval, the entire IVF process spans around 28 days.

Treatment usually commences on the first two to three days of the female partner’s cycle. The first step is taking medications in the form of tablets or injections to stimulate the growth of the eggs, as well as medications to suppress ovulation until egg collection.

These medications may, in some cases, have side effects, and for this reason, patients are carefully monitored using blood tests and ultrasound scans, usually starting on the eighth day of the cycle. Another two scans are done on the tenth and twelfth days.

The next step in the process is the egg collection. It begins with an HCG injection 36 hours prior to the egg collection – this is usually on the evening of day 12. The egg collection procedure takes about two hours and is performed under sedation, with a very fine needle which is attached to an ultrasound. After the egg collection, a progesterone hormone is given to prepare the lining of the uterus (womb) prior to embryo transfer.

On the same day as the egg collection, using a sperm sample from the male partner or donated sperm, and the eggs are fertilized in the lab. The resulting embryos are grown in the laboratory for three to five days.

Thanks to new techniques of embryo culture, embryos can be grown in the laboratory longer until they reach the blastocyst stage (day 5). This means that better quality embryos can be chosen for transfer. Extra embryos are frozen (cryopreserved) and stored in liquid nitrogen so they can be used in future treatment cycles.

The third step is the transfer of the embryo into the uterine cavity. This is a painless procedure and no anaesthetic is necessary. An ultrasound scan is performed to ensure the embryos are transferred into the correct place. Depending on your specific circumstances, certain medications may be required. An embryo can take between six and seven days to attach or implant itself to the uterine wall.

After 14 days, a blood test will be performed to check for pregnancy.

What are the chances of success?

IVF treatment has a great success rate. It must be remembered, however, that the success rates depend on many factors, particularly the age of the female partner and the fertility clinic chosen.
The most important factor in determining the success of IVF is the age of the woman having treatment. In a 25 year old women a in vitro fertilization cycle may have a 60% success rate with blastocyst transfer compared with a 40 year old woman having a 10% success rate with IVF. It is also important to realise that, in many cases, more than one IVF cycle is required to achieve a pregnancy.

Another important factor in the success rate of IVF is the fertility clinic you choose.

Choosing the right clinic for your IVF treatment

Choosing the right fertility clinic is also an important factor in the success rate of IVF treatment.

For example, at Cape Fertility, we achieve some of the best IVF success rates in the world. Yet, we are always striving for higher success rates to ensure even more of our patients can experience the joy of have their own baby.

At Cape Fertility, we also value each individual patient and pride ourselves on providing truly individualised and personalised care.

When you have your IVF treatment at Cape Fertility, you will meet one of our four reproductive specialists: all with impressive qualifications and extensive experience. You will also enjoy the support of your own IVF co-ordinator, who has a 4-year University Degree as Bachelor of Nursing (or equivalent) and is very experienced in fertility treatment and IVF. Your IVF co-ordinator will guide you through every one of the various steps of the IVF cycle, show you exactly how the medications should be taken and plan your treatment dates and monitoring, while also answering the practical questions you may have and offering advice and support.

We offer IVF treatment at our purpose-built premises in the beautiful city of Cape Town, with an IVF Procedure Room, a modern sophisticated Laboratory and an Embryo Transfer room – all adjacent to our Main Reception and Staff Offices. These facilities, along with our experienced team, ensure all the latest Assisted Conception Techniques, including IVF, are used with great success at Cape Fertility.

Your first step is simply to contact us by clicking here.

We look forward to meeting you!