Struggling To Get Pregnant? Could IVF Help?

The obsession with charting temperatures to establish your most fertile time. The anguish every month when your period comes. The feeling that literally everyone you know who wants a baby has one. One in seven couples in the UK[1] are struggling to conceive, if you’re one of them chances are you’ll be prepared to give anything a shot: but is IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) right for you?

What is IVF? 

Forget about the media sensationalism of IVF helping women in their late sixties to have a baby; in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a common procedure designed to help couples who are struggling to conceive naturally. First performed in the late 1970’s, now over 2%[2] of babies born in the UK started their journey in  in this way. During the procedure, eggs are fertilised in the laboratory and then transferred into the womb. Women can use their own eggs or donated eggs, and their partner’s sperm or donated sperm, depending on your circumstances.

There are seven main stages during each IVF cycle:

1)    Down regulation. Drugs are taken to make the ovaries respond more effectively to fertility drugs.

2)    Stimulation of the ovaries using fertility drugs with the aim of producing around 10-15 eggs.

3)    Monitoring egg development using vaginal ultrasound scans. When the follicles are judged to be the optimum size a different hormone will be injected to induce the final stage of egg maturation.

4)    Ultrasound guided egg collection usually under a light general anaesthetic or other sedation. During this stage any eggs will be retrieved ready to be inseminated.

5)    Sperm collection. Your partner will be asked to produce a sample of sperm, or if you are using donor sperm this will be used to inseminate your eggs.

6)    Fertilisation. Around 16-20 hours after insemination the first signs of fertilisation should be visible under a microscope. Any fertilised eggs will remain in culture for another day or so until they have grown into an embryo and are ready to be transferred back into your uterus.

7)    Embryo transfer. Embryos are transferred through the cervix into the uterus using a catheter. Usually two to three embryos are transferred to increase the chance of having a baby. No more than three embryos may be transferred under HFEA guidelines.

Who can IVF help?

It can often take up to a year to conceive naturally, and unless you have been trying for over 12 months, or know already that you have fertility problems, it is best to try to relax and keep trying. After this time, talk to your doctor to find out if IVF may be able to help you. As a general guide, IVF may be suitable if you are experiencing one or more of the following:

  • Unexplained infertility;
  • Endometriosis;
  • Blocked or diseased fallopian tubes;
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS);
  • Low sperm count;
  • Antisperm antibodies (these occur when the body becomes sensitised to sperm, causing an immune system response that destroys the sperm);
  • Cervical mucous hostility (inability of sperm to penetrate the cervical mucus);
  • Failed alternative treatments.

Risks

Side effects to the drugs used during IVF, such as migraine and nausea, and the increased risk of multiple pregnancy or ectopic pregnancy should be considered. IVF is also very physically demanding on a woman’s body. Not to be overlooked are the serious strains IVF can place on your relationship, and complex emotions involved if it is not successful. In the UK, only 20-25% of IVF treatments lead to birth.[3] The process is often referred to as an emotional rollercoaster and can completely take over your life, so both you and your partner need to be sure it is something you want to undertake.

Don’t give up hope

Remember, conceiving isn’t always instant, so don’t worry if you’re still not pregnant after what may feel like a very long time trying. For every 100 couples trying to conceive naturally:

•84 will conceive within one year;

•92 will conceive within two years;

•93 will conceive within three years.

But, if you’ve been struggling to get pregnant for more than a year, or are already aware that you may have fertility problems, speak to our team of fertility specialists to find out if there is anything that is preventing you from conceiving and how IVF could help you. 
You can also download our guide on fertility to keep.

Sources

[1] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Infertility/Pages/Introduction.aspx 
[2] Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority. http://www.hfea.gov.uk/104.html
[3] NHS Choices

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  • Runners Health and Wellbeing Get inspired for a healthier you. Find the latest in healthy living and fitness tips, as well as our medical and treatment updates.
  • Consultant Consultant Q&As Read the interviews with some of our leading consultants.