Fortunately, 95% of couples trying for a baby will manage to conceive naturally within 2 years, and 85% are expected to conceive within the first year. But for the remaining 5%, getting pregnant can be a challenging task; particularly frustrating as our bodies are designed to be able to make and carry babies.
Medical advances mean that in this day and age, an inability to conceive naturally doesn't mean that a couple won't have children. In fact, many women are even able to give birth to biological children with the help of In Vitro Fertilization; IVF.
What Is IVF?
IVF is the process by which healthy eggs are extracted from the ovaries, and fertilized in a laboratory using either the partner's sperm or donor sperm. The fertilized eggs are then inserted into the uterus where they have a chance to implant and develop into fetuses. Using this method, women are able to experience pregnancy and birth, and have their own biological children.
The IVF process is also undertaken for couples choosing to use donor eggs. If donor eggs are used, the gestational mother will have legal guardianship of the child, but the two will not be biologically related.
Furthermore, IVF is used when a surrogate will be carrying the baby. In this scenario, the mother's eggs are fertilized in a laboratory using the father's sperm, or donor sperm, and the eggs are then implanted into the surrogate. The surrogate will not have any biological or legal guardianship of any child born through this method.
Who Can Have IVF?
Generally, IVF is recommended for women who have been unable to conceive for 3 years despite regular unprotected sex, or sooner for those who have had a professional diagnosis of infertility.
Although the accepted age range is 23-39 years, many clinics do accept women in their early 40's, and some clinics even perform the procedure on older women, which is why we're often seeing news stories of women giving birth in their later years, such as Omkari Panwar and Rajo Devi Lohan who both gave birth in India in 2008, aged 70.
Fortunately, countries such as the United States are quite relaxed when it comes to IVF criteria. However, there are much tougher conditions that need to be met in other countries. For example, in Turkey couples must be married, New Zealand doesn't allow the procedure for same sex couples, and Muslim countries ban the treatment completely.
Does It Work?
In the United States, IVF success rates vary from 6% to 35% depending on the mother's age. Women under 35 have the best success rates, while these figures drop significantly after age 40. Research indicates that the health of eggs declines with age, and even suggests that the hospitality of the uterus can decrease as age increases.
As the figures show, success rates for young, healthy women are not great, and many women find that numerous attempts at IVF are needed before falling pregnant. This a costly treatment, with out of pocket expenses ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 per attempt. Some insurances may cover a portion of this cost, but even one round of IVF can cause huge financial strain for families, never mind numerous attempts.
As well as the financial burden, there's also the physical and emotional strain to think of. Egg extraction and implantation is a big deal in itself, not to mention the various tests and hormone injections along the way. Finding out that an attempt hasn't worked can be devastating for the entire family.
A further consideration is multiple births. To increase chances of a successful pregnancy, a number of eggs are extracted, fertilized and implanted with each round. If more than one egg develops into a fetus, you could find yourself with twins, triplets, or more! Research has found that when 3 eggs are implanted, the chance of multiple births increases by up to 11% from the implantation of 2 eggs. IVF patients should always take this into consideration before the procedure.
A Helping Hand
There are a number of ways in which patients can help to increase the chance of a successful IVF procedure. Let's take a look:
A German study in 2002 looked at 300 IVF couples. In 139 of the couples, the man was a regular smoker. It was found that male smoking reduced IVF success rates by a whopping 16% as the nicotine in cigarettes reduces the quality of the sperm. Similarly, a 2004 study found that IVF success rates among women smokers decreased to the same percentage as if the woman was 10 years older!
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Not only has research shown that IVF success rates are lower among obese women, it also shows that the risk miscarriages after the procedure is higher in those with a particularly high or particularly low body mass index. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25 so try and aim to be within that range before the procedure. Many clinics will not perform the procedure on those who are morbidly obese, or dangerously underweight.
This alternative therapy may just be a bit of hooey, but maybe not! Research tends to disagree on the benefits of acupuncture, as the following studies will show. While a British Medical Journal study found a 65% increase in IVF success rates in acupuncture users compared to those who didn't undergo the complementary procedure, the British Fertility Society concluded that â€˜there is currently no evidence that having acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine treatment around the time of assisted conception increases the likelihood of subsequent pregnancy'.
OK, take this one with a massive pinch of salt. Whether you believe in prayer or not, this one's certainly worth mentioning. Published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine in 2001, a study claims to have found a positive correlation between intercessory prayer (that is, praying to God on behalf of someone else) and IVF success rates. Although women in the prayer group and women in the control group both had similar numbers of eggs fertilized and implanted, the success rate was found to be 22% in the control group, and 46.6% in the prayer group; more than double! Some will argue for the power of prayer, some will argue against, so I'll let you make your mind up about this one!