In vitro fertilisation (IVF) helps people with fertility problems to have a baby. It works by:
- taking an egg
- fertilising it with sperm in a laboratory
- putting the fertilised egg (embryo) back inside the womb to grow
IVF is a complex process with several different stages to understand. If you have questions, please speak to a doctor or nurse caring for you.
To find out more about starting IVF, you can contact our assisted conception unit.
A treatment cycle is made up of 5 steps.
Step 1: Medicines to produce eggs
We give you medicine that temporarily switches off (suppresses) the hormone that releases your eggs. This means that we can control when your eggs are released.
You have another medicine to encourage or 'stimulate' your ovaries to produce more eggs. The aim is to collect as many eggs as possible.
Step 2: egg collection
Your eggs are collected from your ovaries.
Step 3: sperm collection
A sample of semen (the fluid that contains sperm) is collected from your partner. If using frozen or donated (donor) sperm, the sample is prepared.
Step 4: fertilisation
We put the eggs and sperm together in a laboratory dish. They can then be fertilised and develop into an embryo (fertilised egg).
Sometimes, each egg needs to be injected individually with a single sperm. This is called intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection or ICSI.
Step 5: embryo transfer to the womb
We put the embryos in your womb. This is usually on day 2, 3 or 5 after your egg collection when the fertilised egg has divided. We might freeze your embryos if we cannot transfer them straight away or if there are extra ones.
Success rates for IVF
It is important to be realistic about the chances of having a successful IVF treatment cycle. The success of IVF depends mainly on your age when you have treatment. Your chances increase as you progress successfully through each step of the treatment process.
Your chances of a clinical pregnancy (when an ultrasound scan confirms a fetal heartbeat) are:
- 1 in 3, when you start a cycle
- 1 in 2 if you are under 35 years old and have a blastocyst embryo transfer (this is when we put embryos in your womb that are better developed by day 5 after your egg collection)
Information and support
You can find more detailed, up-to-date information about our success rates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) website.
You might find it useful to speak to other people in a similar situation through the HealthUnlocked IVF community.
Resource number: 2687/VER3
Last reviewed: June 2019
Next review: June 2022