What is IVF: everything you need to know
Back in the day, IVF was spoken about in hushed tones, in hurried gossips, in embarrassed voices. ‘I heard she just had a baby, and that the baby was conceived through IVF,’ One hushed voice would say. And the most common reply would be along the lines of, ‘You know I’m not well-informed about these Western inventions. What is IVF?’
Today things are different. IVF is a common term. People know that it is a complex procedure, but they also know that it isn’t simply that mystical procedure that produces babies. But before we continue, it is important to give a comprehensive definition of IVF.
So what is IVF?
IVF (also known as In vitro fertilization) is an assisted reproductive technology, which aids fertilization, embryo development, and implantation. In simple terms, it makes it easier for couples to get pregnant.
Here’s how it works: the woman’s ovaries and the man’s sperm are extracted and combined in a medical lab. This is to allow the sperm to fertilize the eggs. When conception occurs and an embryo (or embryos) take shape, the expert will implant them in the uterus.
Why is IVF used?
From the definition above, it is clear that IVF is employed in specific cases. While some couples opt for this process of fertilization as a last resort, others choose it because they want multiple births.
Below are some of the most common reasons why people use IVF:
• In cases of ovarian failure, fibroids in the womb, ovulation problems etc.
• In cases of blocked (or impaired) fallopian tubes.
• One or both partners have a genetic disorder they don’t want to pass on to their offspring.
• In cases where the fallopian tubes have been surgically removed.
• The male partner is dealing with Infertility problems such as high sperm motility, low sperm count, etc.
• Other cases of undiagnosable infertility.
A step-by-step guide of how IVF works
In order to understand what is IVF and how it works, you have to learn about the techniques involved. The steps on this list will give a detailed answer to the question.
- Step 1:
The woman takes prescribed medications that stimulate and promote the production of healthy eggs. The idea is to produce many eggs. Why? Because there is a high chance that some eggs will never develop and some might be incapable of fertilization.
Step one also involves some blood tests, ovary examinations and hormonal level tests. These checkups are conducted through a transvaginal ultrasound.
- Step 2: The egg retrieval stage
As the term suggests, the woman’s eggs are removed from the follicles of the ovaries. This procedure is done through minor surgery, which most women say can be quite painful.
In cases where the woman’s eggs are unhealthy or sterile, a donor’s eggs are retrieved and used for the artificial reproductive procedure.
- Step 3: Donor insemination (previously referred to as artificial insemination)
The fertility doctor introduces healthy sperm samples at the cervix or directly in the uterus where it can fertilize the eggs.
Here’s an alternative technique: the sperm sample produced is combined with the eggs in a laboratory dish to promote fertilization. When fertilization fails to occur, the expert injects a single sperm directly into the egg so that fertilization can occur.
- Step 4: Monitoring
The fertility doctor monitors the eggs to ensure that fertilization has occurred. The doctor also looks out for cell division. Immediately these are confirmed, the eggs will be labelled embryos.
- Stage 5: Embryo transfer and implantation
Three days after fertilization, a catheter is used to facilitate the safer transfer of the embryos into the uterus.
Implantation of the embryo is likely to take place 6 – 10 days after stage 2. In some cases, a laser is used to promote implantation. Other times, implantation is promoted through the introduction of a chemical solution.
How successful is it?
People who ask the question, ‘What is IVF’ are often interested in success rates. It is important to note that the success rate of every in vitro fertilization procedure is heavily dependent on the following factors:
• Maternal age
• Lifestyle factors
• Reproductive history
• The primary cause of infertility
According to one research, 33% of IVF procedures are successful. This means that 33% of women get pregnant and successfully deliver their babies after their first rounds of IVF.
Due to certain risk factors, two out of three IVF pregnancies are likely to end in a miscarriage. But there are steps women can take to increase their chances of carrying their babies to full term. These tips include, but aren’t limited to:
• Getting plenty of rest
• Keeping stress to the minimum
• Quitting adverse lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking, etc.
• Eating healthy foods especially fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals.
• Taking prenatal vitamins religiously
• Drinking plenty of water
• Attending antenatal classes religiously
Final thoughts on this fertility procedure
IVF as an assisted reproduction technology has come a long way. There have been many improvements and success rates are much higher than they were in the last decade.
Attitudes to the procedure have changed too. Many Nigerians now know better than to stigmatize couples who resort to this technology. Almost everyone knows someone who’s had to go through this and so people have learned to support and encourage couples who opt for in vitro fertilization and this is a huge milestone for such a conservative society.
If you opt for IVF, it doesn’t make you less human. If anything, it means you’re brave, you are open-minded and you’re enlightened.
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