Normally, an egg and sperm are fertilized inside a woman’s uterus. If the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus and continues to grow, a baby is born about 9 months later. This process is called natural or unassisted conception.
IVF is a form of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). This means special medical techniques are used to help a woman become pregnant.
There are five basic steps to IVF:
Step 1: Stimulation, also called super ovulation
• Medicines, called fertility drugs, are given to the woman to boost egg production.
Step 2: Egg retrieval
• A surgery, called follicular aspiration, is done to remove the eggs from the woman’s body.
• The health care provider inserts a thin needle through the vagina and into the ovary and sacs (follicles) containing the eggs. The needle is connected to a suction device, which pulls the eggs and fluid out of each follicle, one at a time.
• The procedure is repeated for the other ovary.
Step 3: Insemination and Fertilization
• The man’s sperm is placed together with the best quality eggs. The mixing of the sperm and egg is called insemination.
• Eggs and sperm are then stored in an environmentally controlled chamber. The sperm most often enters (fertilizes) an egg a few hours after insemination.
Step 4: Embryo culture
• When the fertilized egg divides, it becomes an embryo. Laboratory staff will regularly check the embryo to make sure it is growing properly.
Step 5: Embryo transfer
• Embryos are placed into the woman’s womb 3 – 5 days after egg retrieval and fertilization.
• The procedure is done in the doctor’s office while the woman is awake. The doctor inserts a thin tube (catheter) containing the embryos into the woman’s vagina, through the cervix, and up into the womb. If an embryo sticks to (implants) in the lining of the womb and grows, pregnancy results.
• Unused embryos may be frozen and implanted or donated at a later date.