IVF treatments can be a godsend to those in need. Through the application of modern science, more Intended Parents than ever are able to realize their dream of creating a family of their own.
Medical technology has come quite a long way in the last 50 years. Because of advances and innovation in the field of reproductive medicine. In vitro fertilization, commonly referred to as IVF, is one such technology that has roots in the mid-twentieth century. There is an evolution over the years. It became a common practice and low-risk procedure that it is today. If you’ve been struggling to fall pregnant for at least a year, or have suffered any other complications with conceiving a child naturally, IVF treatments may be for you.
IVF Treatment: What is it?
IVF treatment is a type of assisted reproductive technology that takes an egg, either from a donor or an intending parent, and fertilizes it with sperm, either from a donor or an intending parent, outside of the woman’s body- generally in a laboratory setting. The placement of the fertilized embryo in the woman’s uterus is so that the baby grows as normally as possible inside the mother.
IVF Treatment: What are some recent advances?
IVF treatments have seen some pretty great advances since the first IVF baby was born in 1978. Initially, “natural IVF” was used. This is a process by which the contents from a woman’s fallopian tubes or uterus were collected following natural ovulation. The contents were then saturated with the sperm from either the intended father or donor. Then, the reinsertion of the mix went in to the woman’s womb. The problem with this method is that the chances of the woman becoming pregnant were extremely slim.
Advances in the field of reproductive medicine have since built on this initial technique to create IVF as we know it today. Some of these advances include
Ovarian stimulation happens when the intending mother undergoes a series of hormonal injections that encourage the ovaries to grow more follicles. Each of these ovarian follicles has the potential to produce a healthy egg. So, the more follicles a woman has, the more eggs she is likely to produce. What’s more, there is a control of ovulation or egg release. This means that the egg retrieval takes place at the best possible time in the cycle.
-Final Maturation Induction
Final maturation induction has the name of “trigger shot”. This method uses trigger ovulation. This ensures that all the extra follicles created, release the eggs. This whole process makes the retrieval more successful. This also ensures eggs are more mature and even more likely to produce a pregnancy.
Egg retrieval techniques have evolved considerably since IVF treatment started in the late 1970’s. Initially, the entire contents of a patient’s fallopian tubes or uterus were collected. But the current process is very precise and full of sophistication. Now an outpatient procedure can last just 20-40 minutes. Doctors use a very fine needle to puncture the ovarian follicles and are guided by a special type of ultrasound machine. This procedure has the name of Transvaginal oocyte retrieval. It draws fluid directly from the ovarian follicles. Once harvested, doctors can select the best eggs. Depending on the patient, retrieval of eggs can go anywhere from 10 to 30. This increases the chances of securing a pregnancy almost tenfold in comparison to traditional methods.
-Egg and Sperm Preparation
As explained in the paragraph above, the methods used in the past would collect whatever fluids were available in the fallopian tubes or uterus, mix them with the sperm and hope for a positive result. Modern techniques are much more precise. Any eggs that have been retrieved from the ovaries are now processed in a lab. Sperm also undergoes specialized preparation. They remove any unnecessary cells or possible infections before fertilization.
Co-incubation is a brilliant process in which the egg is placed in a medium with about 75,000 sperm cells. This culture is left in conditions that stimulate natural fertilization for about 1 to 4 hours, which has been shown to be the optimum amount of time for the eggs to be properly fertilized. Once the medium has been left for the ideal amount of time, doctors then scan the egg for signs of fertilization.
ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection)
Another even more effective method of fertilisation is ICSI. You can use it in cases where a man suffers from low sperm count or poor sperm motility. This procedure entails injecting a single sperm cell directly into the healthy egg via a highly precise needle. The transfer of the egg is to a highly specialized medium that encourages further growth.
Embryo culture is a process in which fertilized embryos are allowed to grow in a positive environment outside of the womb. This allows doctors to select the embryos which display the most positive and consolidated growth. Which in turn results in a higher likelihood of pregnancy.
Embryo selection is the process in which doctors are able to select the best embryos based on their quality. Using innovative technology, called time-lapse microscopy, doctors can actually watch as the cells develop in their growth cycles, making it easier for physicians to choose which cells are most likely to grow healthily and to their full potential.
Embryo transfer is the last stage of the IVF process. Before implantation, it is common for the carrying woman to undergo endometrial stimulation to thicken the lining of her uterus, creating the best environment for the embryo. The embryo is then surgically implanted via a small catheter through the vagina. Then, the placement of the embryo is in the most favorable location in the uterus.
Depending on what country you reside in, embryo transfer dictates just how many healthy cells can be implanted into a woman’s uterus at one time. This encourages pregnancy rates and implantation. Historically, when only one embryo was moved into the woman’s uterus, the likelihood that the cell would attach was much lower. This is in comparison if the doctor introduced multiple embryos at once. However, in modern reproductive medicine, the implantation of more than 2 embryos is not the recommendation. This may pose a health hazard to the woman who will carry the baby.
Before, during, or following embryo transfer, hormones is a necessity for the intending mother. This encourages her body to keep and nurture the embryo that has been artificially introduced into her body. Some evidence has shown that with the use of these hormones, women are more likely to have higher rates of live birth and ongoing pregnancy.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is one of the newest and most promising aspects of IVF treatments. PGD tests the cells, before implantation, for genetic diseases and abnormalities. This is a great option for couples who have a family history of inherited genetic diseases or who just wish to determine the sex of their baby!
Read more about PGD with our blog post: In-Depth Discussion: Everything You Need to Know About PGD
Freezing embryos is an excellent way to assist in further IVF treatments, should the need arise. This is a big reassurance for many intending parents. Once the performance of the initial retrieval, preparation, and culture are performed, those steps won’t need to be repeated. This cuts down on treatments, costs and time required for additional implantations. Freezing your bio-material can also be a means of preserving your fertility and reproductive potential, eg, eggs and sperm. You might consider egg retrieval if you are about to undergo treatment for cancer or any other condition which may affect your fertility potential or if you are not ready to form a family but wish to conserve your eggs for future use.
IVF Treatment: Who qualifies for the procedure?
IVF treatment is a great option for people who have struggled or are currently struggling, with fertility issues. If, as a woman, you have had problems with your fallopian tubes, or any trauma or disease that affects your ability to produce or release eggs, IVF treatments may be the right course of action for you. Your doctor may try a few less invasive and less costly measures before suggesting IVF treatment. This is perfectly normal. As a male, if you suffer from a low sperm count or poor sperm motility, IVF treatments can help address those issues.
IVF treatments are also important if you are considering using donor eggs or sperm. In this case, doctors will combine the donor material with the intended parent’s genetic material outside of the body and then implant it in the woman’s uterus following satisfactory fertilization.
Another way that IVF treatments are helping couples all over the world realize their dreams of starting a family is through the marriage of IVF treatments and surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy is used when a couple is unable to carry, or safely carry a pregnancy themselves. After an IVF process, it is time to implant the embryos into the uterus of a surrogate mother. In a gestational surrogacy program, the surrogate has no genetic link to the baby.
IVF Treatment: Is it dangerous?
While no medical procedure is completely without risks, IVF treatments are proven to be safe and effective over years of use and study. Certain complications, such as multiple births, are more common than others. Many of the risks of the past (infections, infectious disease transmission, and congenital defects) have been addressed in recent years by the many new advancements in IVF treatments available. Self-care during IVF is important however, so be sure to read up on how to best look after yourself while under-going treatment.
IVF Treatment: How will it affect my family?
Many studies have indicated that mothers who have undergone IVF treatments to create a family are actually more emotionally involved with their children. Not only that, but similar studies have been conducted that suggest that even fathers of IVF babies are found to be warmer and more emotionally involved. They even enjoy fatherhood more than their adoptive and naturally conceived counterparts. Turning to IVF treatments to start your family is just another testament of your desire to build your family. A true show of devotion and strength, even in the face of adversity.