10 things to know about IVF, a popular fertility treatment

IVF can be a great choice for couples looking to conceive.

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IVF can be a great choice for couples looking to conceive.
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CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/Reuters

  • You’ve probably at least heard the term “IVF” before, but if not, it stands for “in vitro fertilization.”
  • If you’re considering using IVF to get pregnant, there are some things you should know.
  • There are generally a few steps to an IVF cycle and tons of different factors that determine if IVF may be successful.

In vitro fertilization (IVF), is a complicated process and arguably one of the most well-known fertility treatments. You’ve likely at least heard the term before, but you still might not know much about what it is. According to the US National Library of Medicine, IVF is the “joining of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm in a laboratory dish,” which can help couples conceive.

You may also know that it takes a lot of time and is quite expensive. But there’s more that you need to know if you’re considering the process for yourself.


IVF might not be the right fertility treatment for you to try.

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Determining if IVF really is what you should be attempting or not is a great early step.
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Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Though you might know more about IVF than any other fertility treatment, it may not be the right one to help you conceive.

“There’s a lot of other fertility treatments other than IVF out there and if it’s appropriate, the physician should be going through some of those as well,” Dr. Joshua Kapfhamer, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist with the Center for Reproductive Medicine, told INSIDER. “Now there are cases where IVF is very clearly indicated and may be necessary, but there are also other cases where less aggressive interventions, if you will, may be very appropriate.”


The egg retrieval process won’t leave you laid up for days and days.

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The kind of anesthesia, however, can vary depending on your physician, the clinic, and more.
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Columbia Pictures

Although you might fear that the egg retrieval process will be an invasive procedure or something that will require you to spend a lot of time at home afterwards to heal, that’s not actually the case.

“It is a very minimally invasive procedure, which does not require general anesthesia,” Dr. Roohi Jeelani, FACOG, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, told INSIDER. “You can resume work the next day.”


There are generally a few steps to an IVF cycle.

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Understanding the process can help as you begin.
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Leon Neal /Gettyimages

An IVF cycle has a number of steps. The first step is ovarian stimulation, according to Dr. Tarun Jain, MD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist with Northwestern Medicine. During that step, you take medications to boost egg growth. Next is the egg retrieval. After that comes fertilization.

Following fertilization, your doctor will transfer embryos to your uterus (or your partner’s), and Jain noted that there are guidelines to help determine how many to transfer. And from egg retrieval on, you’ll also receive additional hormone supplementation and continue “[until] nine to 11 weeks of pregnancy,” Jain explained.


There’s no guarantee that IVF will work.

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Many people believe that it will always work, but that’s not the case.
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Shutterstock

Unfortunately, even if everything seems to be going according to plan and even if you’re healthy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that IVF will be successful, Kapfhamer said. And, unfortunately, that’s oftentimes a misconception related to IVF.


There are a number of different factors that determine if IVF may be successful.

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Age is an important factor in the success of IVF.
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nata_nytiaga/Shutterstock

If an IVF treatment isn’t successful, it’s not necessarily due to just one reason.

“There’s a lot of factors that affect success rates,” Kapfhamer said. “The biggest two are probably age, the age of the woman specifically. Male age plays a role, but to a lesser extent than the female partner age for couples in which there is a male and female partner. So age is a big one and then the reason for infertility plays a role as well. So those two things are going to be important to consider. But even if everything is normal in a young, healthy couple, that doesn’t guarantee that a pregnancy will result from IVF.”

Additionally, if you have certain medical conditions or diagnoses, you may not have as much success with IVF either, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor about the entirety of your medical history.


If you do IVF once and it works, it doesn’t mean that that it’s only way you can conceive moving forward.

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You can still get pregnant on your own.
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Just because IVF works for you once, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that will be the only way you’ll be able to conceive in the future. “There is always a chance you can get pregnant on your own,” Jeelani said.


You won’t necessarily have multiples if IVF succeeds.

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Multiples can result but not always.
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Anna Azimi/Shutterstock

IVF has a reputation for resulting in multiples, but that’s far from a certainty.

“The patient decides how many embryos to place during a transfer,” Dr. Juan Alvarez, a reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois, told INSIDER. “Physicians guide patients in the process and are always working towards the goal of a singleton pregnancy. It is advised to place one embryo at a time, and in some cases with prior unsuccessful cycles, two embryos are transferred.”

The way it will ultimately work for you, however, will depend on your doctor and your clinic.


It’s good to know what kind of insurance you have.

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Check if you have “diagnostic only” insurance.
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“Diagnostic only” insurance won’t cover your treatments, so it’s important to know if that’s the sort of insurance you might have, Alvarez said. Wrapping up testing prior to beginning treatment is of the utmost importance, Alvarez explained, because after things won’t be covered any longer.

Verifying what your insurance covers and doesn’t can help you avoid any surprises later on down the road.


Making sure you’re healthy is a good idea, because that too can affect success rates.

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Maintain a healthy lifestyle prior to IVF.
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Shutterstock

Kapfhamer said that ensuring that you’re generally healthy, not just from a very specific fertility standpoint, is a good idea because it too can affect how the IVF process might go.

“There are certain things that are important for fertility, but I think just, in general, making sure that you’re a healthy weight, limiting alcohol intake, if you smoke, stop smoking, eliminate other substance use, all those things can greatly improve success rates overall,” Kapfhamer explained.


There are a number of things you need to ask a fertility specialist when determining which physician and clinic with which to work.

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Fertility clinics can vary quite a bit.
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Universal Pictures

Working with the right physician and the right fertility clinic are both super important, but determining that the person and clinic are the best for you can sometimes feel daunting. Part of how you can tell if a doctor is right for you is by the feeling you get when you meet them in person, Kapfhamer said, so make sure that you meet with someone to ask any questions you may have before you determine how to proceed. Not only that, but fertility clinics can vary quite a bit as well.

“Different fertility practices are gonna be run differently,” Kapfhamer said. “Do you want a practice where you’re going to be meeting with the same provider every time? The way we tend to do things is for all of my patients I’m monitoring their entire cycle and so if they have questions, concerns, if there’s anything that comes up with their cycle, all that’s coming directly through me. Other practices will kind of divide and conquer, if you will, in which you may see a different provider at different visits. So there are different clinic setups that may mesh with different people.”

Learning more about how the different clinics or physicians you may be considering operate can help you sort out which one may be best for you.

“So that’s step one and then also important is going to be overall clinic success rates, and the workflow and how that process is going to be,” Kapfhamer added. “Will you have someone there to guide you every step of the way, is it a little bit more hands-off? This is a very arduous process so most people want to know that their cycle is being monitored very closely, they’ve got someone guiding them through every step of the way, they’re not just being sent off and expected to know what they need to do. You should leave that initial appointment having a feel for how things are going to work, even if you don’t understand exactly what’s going to happen from a nuanced medical standpoint, knowing the general process and how you’re going to be guided through that process is important.”

Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.