What is IVF?
IVF or in vitro fertilisation is a series of procedures to assist you with conception. It is when a human egg is fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. If the fertilised egg (embryo) successfully implants in the uterus, this will result in pregnancy.
What happens during the IVF process?
IVF is a process, with each IVF cycle occurring with one menstrual cycle.
- Blood test: On day one of your menstrual cycle, you will have a blood test with your fertility clinic.
- Hormone stimulation: On day 2 or 3 of your menstrual cycle, your hormone stimulation treatment will start. You will start taking medicine to stimulate your follicles so they produce several eggs.
- Trigger shot: Once your eggs have reached a certain size, you will give yourself an injection containing hormones that trigger your ovary to mature and release an egg.
- Egg retrieval: About 34 to 36 hours after the trigger shot, your eggs will be retrieved (collected). Your fertility specialist will use a thin needle inserted in your vagina wall into the follicles to retrieve the eggs.
- Semen sample: If you are using your partner's fresh sperm, they will provide a semen sample on the same day of the egg collection. If this is not possible, a surgical procedure can help extract sperm directly from the testicles. You may also use frozen donor sperm.
- Fertilisation: Healthy sperm and eggs are brought together on a dish and incubated overnight. In some situations, you may need Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which is a procedure where a single healthy sperm is injected into a mature egg. This may be helpful when the sperm quality is low.
- Embryo transfer: Around 3 to 5 days after egg retrieval, your fertility specialist will transfer an embryo into your uterus. Usually one embryo is transferred, but sometimes more. In some cases your fertility specialist will wait to transfer an embryo. Any good quality embryos that are not transferred might be frozen and used in the future, depending on your individual circumstances.
- Pregnancy test: After the embryo is transferred, you will need to wait 2 weeks before you can test for pregnancy. Blood tests are more reliable than a home pregnancy test, so it's best to do this at your fertility clinic or through your GP.
What are the reasons for using IVF?
IVF is used to treat infertility and some genetic problems. It may also help people in the sexually- and gender-diverse (LGBTIAQ+) community start a family, as well as single people who would like to become parents.
You may think about using IVF for a number of reasons, including if you or your partner has:
- low sperm count
- problems with ovulation due to conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome
- problems with the fallopian tubes
- if either of you have been sterilised
- problems with endometriosis
- a wish to avoid passing on inherited genetic disorders to your children
Some people may choose to use donor sperm or eggs. For example, if a couple is at risk of passing on a serious genetic disorder to their children, they may be advised to use donor sperm or donor eggs.
People who have cancer can sometimes have their healthy eggs or sperm frozen before starting cancer treatment, which can harm their fertility. These eggs or sperm can be thawed later and used in IVF once the cancer treatment is over.
Sexually and gender-diverse people (LGBTIQA+) and single people may also choose to use IVF to build a family.
Should I try other fertility treatments first?
For some people, IVF is the preferred treatment right from the start. Others choose to try other fertility treatments such as fertility drugs, surgery or artificial insemination first. Your doctor can give you more information about the treatment options recommended for you.
What is the success rate of IVF?
Your chance of success with IVF depends on many factors. Some important factors are your age, your partner or donor's age and the cause of infertility. You should ask your doctor or fertility clinic about your own chances of a successful pregnancy and birth.
That chance is higher if you are younger than 35 years old, and decreases as you get older. By age 44, the chance of success is about 1 in 100.
Some women need 5 cycles of treatment or more to be successful, while others never become pregnant.
Can single or sexually- and gender-diverse people (LGBTIQA+) people use IVF?
Any Australian can use IVF whether they are single or in a partnership.
The situation for LGBTIQA+ people (who may not be infertile) and same-sex couples seeking IVF can vary. For information about IVF that is relevant to your own situation, talk to your doctor or a local fertility clinic.
How much does IVF cost?
IVF is costly and time-consuming. Repeated cycles can take an emotional and physical toll on people going through it, and their family.
Financial costs vary, but each cycle of IVF may cost several thousand dollars. You can get a rebate on some IVF items from Medicare, if they are medically necessary for you to get pregnant. Your private health fund may pay for other aspects of treatment. There are also the costs of medicines, tests and day surgery. You may also need to take time off work while you have treatment.
If you are considering IVF, it is important to talk to your doctor, the IVF clinic and your private health fund (if you have one) to understand what is covered and any out-of-pocket costs.
How long does IVF take?
IVF takes time. When you are first considering it, you will need to talk to your doctor and get a referral to an IVF clinic or fertility specialist.
You (and your partner) will need to have a number of physical examinations and tests such as ultrasounds, sperm analysis and blood tests before starting any treatment. Even once you start IVF, you will go through a lot of steps involving visits to clinics and laboratories.
If the first cycle is successful, you are on your way. But if not, you may decide to try again with one or more additional cycles. You may be advised to wait a while between cycles, so speak with your fertility specialist and discuss what is best in your circumstances.
What are the risks of IVF?
It's important to remember that with IVF there is a risk of not getting pregnant, which can be upsetting and emotionally painful.
Medical risks include that the ovaries may be stimulated too much, which can be serious. This is known as ‘ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome' or OHSS.
Does an IVF pregnancy have more or different risks?
All pregnancies carry a risk of complications. There are many factors that may increase the risk of having a pregnancy complication, including older age (over age 38), obesity and smoking.
Females who become pregnant through IVF are more likely to experience these complications during their pregnancy:
- vaginal bleeding
- blood clots in early pregnancy
- high blood pressure
- premature birth
- birth by caesarean section
- having a child with a congenital disorder
The risk of complications will depend on your own situation. You should discuss the risks and benefits of having IVF with your doctor and/or fertility clinic before you start treatment.
Stress and emotional support
Many couples are not successful in their first IVF cycle — you may need a few cycles of treatment, and some couples do not become pregnant at all. This can be an emotional process, especially if you have already been trying to have a baby for a few years. You or your partner may also be receiving hormone medications that can affect your mood, potentially impacting on your emotional and sexual relationship.
You will be offered counselling before you begin treatment. You should also consider ongoing counselling to help cope with any emotional or relationship issues that you or your partner may experience.
Joining a fertility support group can also help you cope with any challenges you may experience during IVF treatment.
How can I find an IVF doctor?
Your doctor can refer you to a fertility specialist, IVF clinic or special hospital unit for treatment. Some public hospital units work in partnership with private clinics.
The Fertility Society of Australia has a list of accredited assisted reproduction treatment units for different states.
You should discuss treatment options with your doctor or fertility specialist. However, deciding whether to use IVF is a very personal choice. You will need to consider the financial costs as well as the physical and emotional pressures involved.
Questions to ask my IVF doctor
It's a good idea to think about any questions you have about the IVF process and write them down before your appointment.
Here are some questions you might like to ask at your appointment:
- What treatment options are available to me?
- What are the risks and benefits of the treatment plans available?
- Would all IVF procedures be done by my own specialist ?
- What IVF success rate do you have for people of my age and with my condition?
- What tests, treatments and medicines are covered by Medicare or private insurance? Which are not?
- How many cycles of IVF treatment a year are funded by Medicare? Does the practice or clinic manage the claim?
- Do you have a gap agreement with my health fund?
Alternatives to IVF
IVF is a long process that is costly, and a big investment of physical and emotional energy. Some people may find that other options, such as fostering or adopting a child, can help them grow their family. This can be meaningful and rewarding for both the parents and the child.
Where can I get more information and support?
- Visit YourIVFSuccess for information about IVF treatment and success rates in clinics across Australia, and to find an IVF clinic in your area.
- Visit the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) website for helpful information about fertility and fertility treatment including IVF.
- Visit the Fertility Society of Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) website for information about fertility treatments, and to find accredited IVF clinics in Australia.
- Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse for advice and support.
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Last reviewed: May 2022