Louise Brown became the world’s first baby born by in vitro fertilization, or IVF, in 1978. Since then, the field of reproductive medicine has been experiencing quite the progress. Given that approximately one in eight heterosexual couples has difficulty conceiving, and single parents often need clinical help to make a baby, the demand for IVF has been growing.
With over 5 million babies being born with the help of IVF, this procedure has now become a standard fixture in the field of reproductive medicine. IVF works by imitating the process of sexual reproduction. So, before we understand how IVF works, we need to look at the natural process of reproduction.
Understanding the Reproduction Process
About 15 days before fertilization can happen, the anterior pituitary gland secretes the follicle-stimulating hormone, FSH, which develops a handful of follicles of the ovary that then produce estrogen. Each follicle holds one egg, and on average, only one follicle matures fully.
As it grows and releases estrogen, this hormone helps coordinate the uterus’ growth and preparation. As the estrogen level reaches its peak, the anterior pituitary unleashes a surge of luteinizing hormone, LH, which jump-starts the ovulation process and causes the follicle to break and discharge the egg.
As the egg leaves the ovary, it is guided into the fallopian tube by the finger-like fimbriae. The egg needs to be fertilized by sperm within 24 hours, or the unfertilized egg will die. If the egg is not fertilized, the whole system will reset itself, preparing to create a new egg and uterine lining in the coming month.
Once the fertilization is successful, the zygote begins developing into an embryo and reaches the embryo in approximately three days. After that, another three or more days are needed for the embryo to implant itself firmly into the endometrium. After the implantation is complete, a hormone is secreted by the cells that eventually form the placenta. This is an indication to the ovulated follicle that there is a pregnancy in the uterus. After that, the placenta matures and takes over until the baby is born roughly 40 weeks later.
How Does IVF Work?
So, now that we understand how babies are naturally made, the next obvious question is, how do you make a baby in a lab?
In patients undergoing IVF, FSH is administered at higher levels than naturally occurring to cause controlled overstimulation of the ovaries to ultimately produce multiple eggs. The eggs are retrieved just before ovulation, while the woman is under anesthesia through an aspirating needle guided by ultrasound.
The identified eggs are removed from the surrounding cells in the laboratory and developed for fertilization in a petri dish. There are two ways in which fertilization can take place.
In the first method, fertilization happens naturally when the egg is incubated along with thousands of sperm for a few hours. The second technique increases the chances of fertilization by using a needle to place a single sperm inside the egg.
Once the fertilization process is complete, the embryos can be further tested for genetic fitness, or frozen for later attempted pregnancies, or even passed via a catheter into the woman’s uterus. The standard convention is to transfer the embryo three days after fertilization when the embryo has eight cells, or on day 5, the embryo is called a blastocyst and has hundreds of cells.
Precautions To Take During IVF Treatment
An IVF cycle is considered by many to be an excruciating and challenging process. This is a myth. The pain caused by the injection is reduced considerably by the skin or subcutaneous injections available nowadays.
There is also that misconception that women undergoing IVF need to be on strict bed rest during the procedure. Patients can be active during the IVF treatment. Fertility experts often encourage women to continue to lead their regular lives.
Of course, both partners need to ensure that they do not smoke or consume alcohol. They should also have a diet that is rich in antioxidants which includes fresh fruits and vegetables. They should also commit to doing a moderate amount to exercise.
The fluid intake must be high during the IVF cycle. It is better to avoid physical relationship between the couple during the course of treatment.
Success Rates in IVF
One can say that IVF success rates are high across the globe. This statement is supported by a study where 156,000 women who participated in the research were found to have a successful conception and pregnancy hovering around 30% after the first IVF cycle. This is comparable to couples with healthy fertility trying to conceive through natural cycles.
To increase the odds of success, fertility experts, at times, transfer multiple embryos at once. This is why the chance of giving birth to twins or triplets is higher for women who undergo IVF than in natural pregnancies. However, most clinics attempt to reduce the possibilities of multiple pregnancies, as they are more hazardous for mothers and babies. In clinics with good clinical and embryological expertise and with the use of latest technology, the success of IVF in a single cycle when 2 blastocysts are replaced are as high as 60 percent which means 6 out of 10 coupes conceive in the first cycle of IVF.
IVF procedures are generally safe. However, be sure to speak to your fertility specialist to understand the medical process and any risks associated with it.
Need A Recommendation?
Millions of babies, like Louise Brown, have been born from IVF and have had regular and healthy lives. If you are in the market for an IVF treatment recommendation, have a look at MotherToBe, a reputed and well-known Fertility Centre in Hyderabad. Headed by Lead Clinician Dr Vyjayanthi, she has personally performed over 10,000 IVF cycles adhering to the highest standards of patient care across a career spanning over 18 years.
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