Overview: IVF Process

In vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer (ET) are successful and effective methods for thousands of people who otherwise would have little or no hope of bearing children.

IVF involves stimulating the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The eggs are removed from the ovary just before they would be released. They are placed in a special petri dish and combined with sperm. Fertilization literally takes place "in vitro" -- which means "in glass." Three days after fertilization has occurred, a limited number of embryos are placed into the woman’s uterus.

How is IVF performed?

  • Both partners undergo basic screening tests and sign consent forms.
  • The woman receives medications to stimulate the development of multiple follicles (egg-containing structures) in the ovaries.  These injections continue for about 8-12 days.
  • Blood and ultrasound testing is done every 1-3 days to monitor the developing follicles.
  • When the follicles have matured, the eggs will be removed using a transvaginal ultrasound procedure.
  • The eggs are then fertilized in the laboratory with the woman’s partner's sperm.  If the sperm are poor quality or there has been poor or failed fertilization in the past, the IntraCytoplasmic Sperm Injection procedure might be used to assist fertilization.
  • The embryos are cultured in the laboratory for 2-5 days.
  • On the final day of culture, the embryos are placed in the woman's uterus where they will hopefully implant, develop and result in a live birth.
  • If there are additional embryos (of good quality) beyond the number transferred, they can be frozen for use in a future cycle. A frozen IVF cycle is substantially easier and less expensive than a new cycle.

What happens in the lab?

On the day the eggs are retrieved:

  • The eggs are carefully placed into a previously prepared culture dish to mature until the sperm is added. 
  • These dishes are placed in a portion of the incubator designated for the specific patient.
  •  A physician will meet with the partner, verify his identity and then show him to the collection room.
  • When the sperm specimen is returned to the lab, a mini semen analysis is performed and the sperm is "washed" to remove any dead sperm.
  • Later in the day, the sperm and eggs are combined. Each consecutive day, the embryos are carefully checked for their rate of development.

On the morning of embryo transfer:

  • The embryos are again carefully checked for their rate of development and prepared for either transfer into the uterus or freezing for future use, depending on the patient's wishes.
  • Prior to the embryo transfer, the physician will discuss with the patient the quality of the embryos, the number to be transferred and the number to be frozen.
  • The embryos are carefully loaded into an embryo transfer catheter by laboratory personnel and handed to the physician.
  • The embryos are then placed into the uterus, using a catheter.
  • Once the embryos are placed into the uterus the catheter is handed back to the laboratory personnel. These personnel check very carefully to make sure there are no embryos remaining.

More Information

See a more detailed, step-by-step description of IVF at Fletcher Allen. More>>