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5 steps of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process

“Infertility is a really large problem in the United States and all over the world,” says Pavna Brahma, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital.

In fact, approximately one in eight couples who attempt pregnancy has difficulty conceiving a child. With the help of modern fertility treatment, particularly in vitro fertilization (IVF), couples are realizing their dreams of becoming parents.

“In vitro fertilization is a great technology to help couples conceive,” says Dr. Brahma.

The process consists of five steps:

Step 1: Medication

The woman is given injection hormones to stimulate healthy egg development. IVF helps her produce more eggs than she would in a normal month.

“In a typical ovulatory month, we recruit and ovulate one egg,” explains Dr. Brahma. “With IVF, our goal is to make 10 or 15 eggs.”

Step 2: Harvest the eggs

Eggs are then collected from the ovaries via a minor surgery during which the woman is sedated and the eggs are retrieved trans-vaginally.

“We use a small needle guide to pass a needle over a trans-vaginal ultrasound to remove fluid from the follicles,” she explains.

On the same day, sperm is collected from the male partner.

Step 3: Fertilization

The egg and sperm are then combined in a lab through varying technologies of fertilization, such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Step 4: Embryo culture

“The embryologists will observe the embryos as they divide from two cells to four cells and then eight cells,” says Dr. Brahma. “We watch as they have a growth, sometimes up to five days out at the blastocyst stage, where they have 100 or 125 cells.”

Step 5: Embryo transfer

During an embryo transfer, a woman’s uterus is watched by ultrasound and a small catheter is placed into the uterine cavity through the cervix. The embryo(s) are then placed in the uterus. Ten days later, the woman returns to the clinic for a blood test to determine if she’s pregnant.

Delivering the good news

Going through IVF is a process that we endure together,” says Dr. Brahma. “A really exciting moment is getting to make a phone call to a patient giving her the great news that it has worked and her pregnancy test is positive. It’s one of the most exciting phone calls I get to make.”

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