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All about IVF

12-minute read

Key facts

  • In vitro fertilisation, known as IVF, is a procedure used to help you get pregnant.
  • In IVF, a human egg is fertilised with sperm in a laboratory then implanted into a uterus. If the fertilised egg (embryo) successfully implants in the uterus, this will result in pregnancy.
  • IVF may be used to treat infertility, to prevent certain genetic problems or to help people who are single or in the sexually- and gender-diverse (LGBTIAQ+) community start a family.
  • IVF success rates vary — your doctor can help you understand your chances of becoming pregnant with IVF.
  • IVF can be expensive, so it's a good idea to discuss the pros and cons of fertility treatment with your treatment provider and your partner (if you have one) before you start.

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.

  1. Blood test: On day one of your menstrual cycle, you will have a blood test with your fertility clinic.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 ovulationdue 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:

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?

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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Understanding fertility treatment There are many types of fertility treatments available, ranging from simple interventions such as medication to help a woman ovulate, through to more complicated procedures known as assisted reproductive treatment (ART). ART, also known as assisted reproductive technology, refers to medical and scientific methods used to help people conceive. Fertility treatments are used: to treat infertility for people who can’t become pregnant, carry a pregnancy or give birth to reduce the chance of a baby inheriting a genetic disease or abnormality to preserve fertility. Types of treatment Depending on the cause of infertility, the following types of treatment may be recommended by your fertility specialist. This information provides a general overview of techniques available. Speak to your fertility clinic for more information. Ovulation induction (OI) Ovulation induction (OI) can be used if a woman is not ovulating or not ovulating regularly. It involves taking a hormone medication (tablets or injections) to stimulate ovulation. The response to the hormones is monitored with ultrasound and when the time is right, an injection is given to trigger ovulation (the release of the egg). Timing intercourse to coincide with ovulation offers the chance of pregnancy. Artificial insemination or IUI Artificial insemination, which is sometimes called intrauterine insemination (IUI), involves insertion of the male partner’s (or a donor’s) sperm into a woman’s uterus at or just before the time of ovulation. IUI can help couples with so called unexplained infertility or couples where the male partner has minor sperm abnormalities. You can use the Unexplained infertility - exploring your options guide to better understand if IUI is a suitable option for you. IUI can be performed during a natural menstrual cycle, or in combination with ovulation induction (OI) if the woman has irregular menstrual cycles. If a pregnancy is not achieved after a few IUI attempts, IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be needed. In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) During IVF, the woman has hormone injections to stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. When the eggs are mature, they are retrieved in an ultrasound-guided procedure under light anaesthetic. The eggs and sperm from the male partner or a donor are placed in a culture dish in the laboratory to allow the eggs to hopefully fertilise, so embryos can develop. Three to five days later, if embryos have formed, one is placed into the woman's uterus in a procedure called embryo transfer. If there is more than one embryo, they can be frozen and used later. The IVF process: Is IVF safe? IVF is a safe procedure and medical complications are rare. But as with all medical procedures, there are some possible health effects for women and men undergoing treatment and for children born as a result of treatment. Read more about the possible health effects of IVF here. Understanding IVF success rates Clinics report success rates in different ways, so when comparing clinics’ success rates make sure you compare like with like or ’apples with apples’. Most importantly, you need to consider your own personal circumstances and medical history when you estimate your chance of having a baby with IVF. You can read more about interpreting success rates here. The chance of a live birth following IVF depends on many factors including the woman’s age, the man’s age and the cause of infertility. Research using the Australian and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database calculated the chance of a woman having a baby from her first cycle of IVF according to her age. The results below apply to women who used their own eggs, and it includes the use of frozen embryos produced by one cycle of IVF: Under 34: 44 per cent chance of a live birth 35-39: 31 per cent chance of a live birth 40-44: 11 per cent chance of a live birth 44 and above: one per cent chance of a live birth. Costs of IVF In Australia, Medicare and private health insurers cover some of the costs associated with IVF and ICSI but there are also substantial out-of-pocket costs. The difference between the Medicare contribution and the amount charged by the clinic is the ‘out-of-pocket cost’. These costs vary, depending on the treatment, the fertility clinic and whether a patient has reached the Medicare Safety Net threshold. You can read more about costs here.   Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is used for the same reasons as IVF, but especially to overcome sperm problems. ICSI follows the same process as IVF, except ICSI involves the direct injection of a single sperm into each egg to hopefully achieve fertilisation. Because it requires technically advanced equipment, there are additional costs for ICSI. For couples with male factor infertility, ICSI is needed to fertilise the eggs and give them a chance of having a baby. But for couples who don’t have male factor infertility, ICSI offers no advantage over IVF in terms of the chance of having a baby. You can read more about what’s involved in 

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The Pink Elephants Support Network - Male Fertility Issues - Pink Elephants

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