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What is In Vitro Fertilization?
One of the most effective and common methods to increase your chances of having a baby is in vitro fertilization (IVF). This involves fertilizing an egg outside of the body in a laboratory dish and then inserting it into a woman’s reproductive system.
Your participation, and that of your doctor (reproductive endocrinologist), nurses, and embryologists are essential for successful in vitro fertilization (IVF). It is crucial to know the exact timing of medications and monitor ultrasound closely. Although this is a complicated and detailed process, we can help you navigate and ease any complexities. Ask our doctors and nurses any questions.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) overview
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is where eggs (oocytes), are taken from an ovary and placed in a Petri plate with active, motile sperm. Fertilization takes place in the Petri dish and not in the woman’s body. This process is called “in vitro.” A fertilized egg will have 6-8 cells by 3 days after egg retrieval if it is properly developing. If the embryo continues to develop properly, it will form a blastocyst within 5-6 days of egg retrieval. After embryos have been developed in the IVF Lab over several days, one or two embryos will be transferred to your uterus. Additional embryos may also be selected for future transfer.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Lab
Our mission is to assist patients in becoming parents through the In Vitro Fertilization Lab (IVF Lab) at Stanford Medicine’s Fertility and Reproductive Health Service. We provide the best technology to create embryos and ensure that they are safe and healthy before they are implanted into a woman’s uterus.
The College of American Pathologists (CAP-accredited laboratory) provides patients with the latest technology and an experienced team of specialists who have overseen thousands of successful cycles. The technologies developed by our IVF team have made IVF possible. This has helped patients who are unable to have children.
There are risks
There are several risks associated with IVF:
- Multiple births. Multiple births are more likely with IVF if more embryos are transferred to your uterus. Multiple fetuses can lead to higher rates of premature labor and lower birth weight than a single fetus.
- Low birth weight and preterm delivery. Research shows that IVF increases the chance that the baby will be born prematurely or with a low birth weight.
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Injectable fertility drugs such as human chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) can cause ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, which causes your ovaries to become enlarged and painful.
The symptoms usually last for a week and can include mild abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea. Your symptoms may last for several weeks if you become pregnant. Rarely, a more severe form can develop from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This condition can cause rapid weight gain and shortness or breathlessness.
- Miscarriage. Miscarriage rates for women who have IVF with fresh embryos are similar to those of women who conceive naturally. They range from 15% to 25%, but it increases with maternal age.
- There are complications with egg-retrieval procedures. Aspirating a needle to collect eggs can cause bleeding, infection, or damage to the bladder, bowel, or blood vessels. If general anesthesia is used, there are risks associated with sedation.
- Ectopic pregnancy. An estimated 2% to 5% of IVF patients will experience an ectopic birth. This is when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, often in a fallopian tube. The fertilized egg cannot survive outside of the uterus and there is no way to continue the pregnancy.
- Birth defects. Birth defects are most often caused by the age of the mother. This is true regardless of how the child was conceived. It is important to investigate whether IVF-conceived babies are at higher risk for certain birth defects.
- Cancer. Some early studies suggested that certain medications used to stimulate egg development may cause a particular type of ovarian cancer. However, recent studies have not supported these claims. After IVF, there is no evidence of an increased risk of developing breast, cervical, or ovarian cancer.
- Stress. IVF can be emotionally, financially, and physically draining. Counselors, family members, and friends can support you and your partner during the difficult times of infertility treatment.