Wading into the world of fertility treatment, and into IVF in particular, can feel overwhelming. There’s so much information to consider and understand, from types of IVF to add-on treatments, and analysing IVF success rates. Here, we take a look at the different types of IVF to give you a straight-forward breakdown of what’s available, whether you’re up North or looking for a fertility clinic in London.
Natural cycle IVF may be an option for women who have had reactions to fertility drugs in the past or for those who have a history of hormone-related cancers (like breast cancer). Natural cycle IVF is carried out in line with your natural ovulation cycle. Fertility drugs are not used to stimulate the ovaries, and as such, a single egg (the one produced naturally each month) can be collected from each cycle.
Because natural cycle IVF does not make use of fertility drugs it has both limits and benefits. The benefits are that it costs less than conventional IVF, doesn’t carry any of the risks associated with fertility drugs (like Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)), doesn’t require injections, and you can also try sooner for another cycle than with conventional IVF.
The downsides are that only a single egg can be collected each cycle, so the success rate is generally not as high as IVF using drugs. On the upside though its also possible for the body to naturally release two eggs during ovulation, which is known as hyperovulation. However, this process is largely influenced by factors that are outside of your control.
The egg that is released from your normal menstrual cycle is collected and then mixed with sperm in the same way as conventional IVF.
Mild stimulation IVF involves using doses of fertility drugs (Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)) in much lower concentrations and for a shorter period of time (between 7 and 10 days) than conventional IVF. Your fertility doctor will be able to collect more eggs with mild stimulation IVF than with natural cycle IVF. Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and those who feel strongly about the physical side effects of fertility drugs may opt for this type of IVF.
The benefit of mild stimulation IVF is that more eggs can be collected when compared to natural cycle IVF. It also reduces the risk of OHSS when compared to conventional IVF. In addition, women usually experience far fewer side effects from fertility drugs because they are given in smaller doses and for a short period of time.
The downside is that fewer eggs are collected when compared to conventional IVF and the cycle is more time consuming than natural IVF.
Conventional IVF is a very common fertility treatment for women who are not able to conceive naturally. Fertility hormones are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce many eggs. These are then collected and fertilised in the laboratory by an embryologist. If the partner’s sperm is considered to be abnormal, a procedure called ICSI is used to inject an individual sperm into an egg in the laboratory.
The benefit of IVF is that a large number of eggs can be collected and success rates are reasonable.
The downsides are that women do experience unpleasant side effects from the high doses of fertility drugs given (like headaches, bloating, mood changes). Although women undergoing IVF are very carefully monitored by their fertility doctor, they are at risk of OHSS which, although rare, does happen. In addition, a single IVF cycle can take up to six weeks to complete.
In vitro maturation (IVM) is a technique that involves extracting an immature egg from the ovarian follicles. They are then allowed to develop and mature in the laboratory before being fertilised and implanted back into the uterus. This procedure may be suitable for women with PCOS.
The benefit of this is that there is no risk of OHSS as no or very little fertility drugs are needed to stimulate the ovarian follicles. The process is generally seen as safer and less expensive than conventional IVF.
Unfortunately, as this is a reasonably new technique, it means that there hasn’t been much research into the development of children conceived using IVM as they grow.
Understanding the different types of IVF can feel overwhelming but fear not, your fertility clinic has your back. Although it’s ultimately your decision, they will advise you as to which is the most appropriate route for your IVF journey based on your medical and fertility history, your goals, and any results from your fertility tests.