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IVF stands for in vitro fertilization and is a popular type of assisted reproductive technology (ART). IVF has seen significant growth in recent years, bringing hope to many couples struggling to conceive.
A recent study found 10-15% of married couples in India suffer from infertility problems, and IVF success rates range from 20-65%.
Many factors contribute to infertility problems, including age, genetics, and lifestyle habits. However, IVF is one of the most effective ways to increase fertilization opportunities by allowing infertility specialists to create a controlled environment.
So, if you have decided to embark on the IVF journey, it is essential to understand what is involved and what you and your partner can do to improve your chances of a successful and healthy pregnancy.
IVF Cycle Timeline
An average IVF cycle can take around 3-8 weeks from your first consultation to embryo transfer. IVF treatment involves a series of procedures and medication, preparing your body for fertilization, implantation, and pregnancy.
Let’s take a closer look at the IVF journey:
The first meeting with your doctor is the perfect opportunity for you to ask all the questions you have (and you will have a lot). Make a list of everything you want to know so you can address any concerns early on. The IVF journey can bring many emotions, including anxiety and stress, so communicating with your doctor is important.
Your doctor will use the initial consultation to record an extensive medical history for both you and your partner. This information is crucial to help determine the best treatment options.
A clinical consultation involves a lot of the essential information you will need to know once you have committed to your desired treatment plan. During this time, you will learn how to self- administer medications and when to schedule procedures.
It is also advised to meet with the finance department to take a look at your options. IVF can be expensive, but there are flexible payment options and insurance available to help you plan treatment costs accordingly. Proper planning ahead of the weeks to follow is crucial to help you manage and reduce stress.
Now that you have a better idea of what to expect from your treatment plan, pretreatment preparation can begin.
During this stage, there will be several lab tests and imaging tests carried out to help provide an accurate diagnosis of your infertility condition. These tests include:
- Blood tests
- Uterine evaluation
- Sperm analysis
Once the results have been analyzed, your doctor can then provide you with the right individualized fertility treatment required.
After testing and diagnosis, supplements, antioxidants, and multivitamins are given to both the female and male partner. Hormonal medications are also given to the female partner, pre IVF to prepare ovaries for better stimulation.
At week 5, a process called Controlled Ovarian Hyperstimulation (COH) begins. This process involves two main parts: medication and monitoring.
Follicle-stimulating hormone/Human menopausal gonadotropin medications are administered for up to 2 weeks. Medication can either be taken orally or injected. The medicine is to help the follicles in the ovaries to produce more eggs than compared to the number produced during a normal cycle.
Ultrasounds and blood tests are used to monitor any follicle and egg development. It can take 5-7 visits to monitor progress during this stage of the IVF process.
Once follicle development has reached the appropriate size, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone is given to help egg maturation. Egg retrieval is scheduled for up to 36 hours after the final injection.
- Egg Retrieval: The egg retrieval procedure is fairly quick and performed under sedation. A thin needle is guided through the vagina into the follicles to retrieve the eggs. A transvaginal ultrasound is used to help the doctor identify the follicles. Multiple eggs are removed using the needle and placed in a liquid and incubated. There is minimal discomfort post the procedure, but you may experience some cramping. Pain medication is provided during the process.
- Sperm Retrieval: Your partner will be required to provide a semen sample on the same day as the egg retrieval. Various methods can be used like testicular aspiration (TESA), (in the case of zero sperm count or very poor motility) which is a surgical procedure, or masturbation, to retrieve a sperm sample.
- Fertilization: There are two common approaches used to increase the chances of fertilization. Conventional insemination is when healthy sperm and mature eggs are put together in an incubator so that fertilization can occur. However, in cases when male infertility is a problem, your doctor may recommend Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This procedure involves a single sperm being injected into each mature egg.
- Embryo Transfer: This procedure takes place 2-5 days post egg retrieval and is performed in the doctor’s office. You may experience slight discomfort and given a mild sedative. This is a delicate technique using a long and thin catheter that is passed through the vagina and cervix to the uterus. A syringe with one or more embryos in a small amount of fluid is attached to the end of the catheter. The embryo or embryos are then placed into the uterus. A successful embryo transfer will result in implantation, where the embryo will attach to the lining of the uterus. This should occur around 6-10 days post egg retrieval. It is advised to avoid vigorous activity post the procedure. You may also experience mild bloating and cramping or constipation. Contact your doctor if these symptoms persist or worsen.
This is probably the most anxious part of the entire process, as you are eager to find out if the treatment has worked. However, it is very easy to get ahead and test too early. This can create more stress and anxiety because taking a pregnancy test too soon can not give you accurate results.
Your doctor will take a blood test 12-14 days post egg retrieval for a more accurate reading.
Depending on the results, your doctor will inform you of the next steps.
Now that we have provided some more information regarding the IVF process, the most common question couples want to know is what they can do to help in increasing their pregnancy chances.
As mentioned above, there are some medical techniques and procedures that may be performed, like ICSI or TESA, depending on your individualized fertility plan. These techniques are recommended depending on certain factors like age, fertility problems, or genetics.
However, once you have decided to consider IVF, there are other ways you can prepare your mind and body to help increase your chances of pregnancy.
Foods to Eat During IVF
Healthy eating and a balanced diet is the key to ensuring your body is getting all the nutrients it needs to prepare and carry a healthy pregnancy. There is no need to make significant changes to your diet, but incorporating more plant-based, whole grains, and lean meats can help. The Mediterranean diet is highly recommended for many reasons. This particular diet includes fruits and vegetables, fish and poultry, whole grains, lentils, low-fat dairy products, and healthy fats.
Remember, healthier dietary choices can benefit both you and your partner.
Exercise and Workouts
It is natural for women to avoid exercise entirely in fear they injure or cause problems during IVF treatment. However, if you have been maintaining an exercise regime, you can continue to exercise but make adjustments and modify accordingly.
For example, running can affect fertility compared to other forms of exercise as it diverts the blood supply away from the reproductive organs and can affect the uterus lining and enlarged ovaries.
Incorporate alternate workouts or exercises such as:
It may be advised to avoid exercise during certain stages of the IVF cycle as well. It is important to remember that if you have been exercising before, you can modify your regime to avoid complications. Take the necessary precautions, like reducing exercise time, and how often you work out, so your body is not put under a lot of pressure. Avoid any strenuous and high-intensity workouts altogether.
The Do’s & Don’ts
These may be fairly obvious but can take longer to adjust to. It is also important to consider this list well in advance to starting the IVF treatment.
- Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep daily. A study found that women who were not getting enough sleep had lower fertility rates
- Reduce stress with activities like reading, listening to music, and taking a relaxing shower
- Stop smoking at least three months before treatment. Smoking can cause adverse effects and contributes to higher risks of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and live birth rates.
- Stop drinking alcohol months before treatment. Alcohol consumption can cause problems for the different procedures involved in the IVF cycle.
- Take supplements that can include fish oil, vitamin D, and folic acid. You may need to start taking this 1-3 months before the IVF cycle.
- Stop using certain household products containing endocrine-disrupting chemicals — for example, nail polish, soap, and furniture cleaning products.
- Stop taking certain medications. List all the OTC and prescription medication you take and review this list with your doctor.
- 3-5 days of sexual abstinence is required prior to egg collection to get healthy sperms. A very long abstinence of more than 7 days also reduces sperm motility and increases dead sperm and debris in the semen sample and hence long abstinence should be avoided before egg collection day.
What Can Your Male Partner Do?
It is often easy to let the woman carry the entire burden of IVF treatment. However, male infertility is also a common problem, and your male partner can take measures to support and help you along the journey. Remember, his sperm sample is just as important.
Here are some ways your partner can support you:
There is no doubt you and your partner will be doing everything you can to ensure your IVF treatment is successful.
However, some factors can cause complications and result in a failed attempt. This can be disheartening and influence your decision to try again.
Here are some factors to address so you can create the right treatment plan for you to increase your chances of pregnancy.
- Age: Younger women have higher success rates as they can produce more eggs of better quality. If you are 35 or older, you may want to consider using donor eggs to increase your chances.
- Previous pregnancy: If you were able to get pregnant before with the same partner, then you can have a higher chance of getting pregnant. However, recurrent miscarriages or failure to get pregnant before may hinder a positive outcome.
- Type of fertility problem: Both male and female infertility problems can affect pregnancy chances. Depending on the type of fertility problem, a treatment plan can be designed accordingly.
- Lifestyle habits: It is essential to make better lifestyle choices. For example, if you are a smoker or drinker, consider quitting and stopping. Another critical factor is maintaining a healthy weight as being overweight can lead to many pregnancy complications.
- Fertility clinic: The clinic and IVF specialist you choose is going to play a vital role in guiding and advising you. Make sure you do your research to find out the success rates, treatments offered, and medical experience to determine the right fit for your fertility needs.
Book a consultation with Noida’s best infertility specialist Dr. Shweta Goswami, to know more about IVF.