IVF Treatment process
Welcome to our guide to IVF treatment: digestible, comprehensive and medically reviewed. Whether you’re brand new to fertility treatment or a pro already, this guide is for you to better understand the ins and outs of IVF treatment.
Reviewed by Dr. Taraneh Nazem
Reproductive Endocrinologist at RMA of New York
OB/GYN and expert in reproductive medicine
A few quick facts
IVF stands for in vitro fertilization. “In vitro” translates to “in glass” in Latin. The dishes used to fertilize the eggs and sperm are glass, so it literally means “fertilization in glass”.
In 2021, there were more than 246,000 IVF cycles in the US.1
More than a million IVF or donor insemination children have been born in the US.2
On average, it takes 3 transfers to have a successful pregnancy - but this depends on your age.
The first child ever to be conceived through IVF, Louise Brown, was born in 1978 in England.3
hands of a woman, a woman taking a pill - collage stylea woman taking a bill and a couple holding hands

What is IVF treatment, and what’s involved?

IVF is a type of fertility treatment for couples or individuals who seek assistance to conceive a child. In IVF, eggs and sperm are fertilized outside of the uterus before being implanted into the person carrying the pregnancy.

A fertility doctor prescribes fertility medication to grow and mature egg follicles over the course of about two weeks. Once the follicles are ready, a doctor retrieves the eggs in a procedure where the egg provider goes under anesthesia. In a lab, embryologists fertilize the mature eggs with sperm to create embryos. A healthy embryo can be transferred to a woman’s uterus to carry the pregnancy.4

If you’re transferring an embryo right away, the whole process takes a few weeks.5

How does IVF work?

People going through treatment take hormonal medications, usually through injections they give themselves, over the course of a few weeks. The medications prescribed suspend a person’s normal menstrual cycle, help the ovaries produce more eggs than they normally do in a typical cycle, and finally, send a signal to the body to mature and release the eggs.

Patients give themselves hormonal injections at home to stimulate their ovaries, visit their clinic regularly for ultrasounds to ensure things are progressing as expected, and finally, undergo a procedure called “egg retrieval” under anesthesia to collect mature eggs.

On the same day as egg retrieval, the clinic will collect a semen sample, either from a partner or a donor, to fertilize the eggs.

In a lab, an embryologist will fertilize eggs with sperm and monitor those embryos for several days as they grow. Good quality, healthy embryos can be transferred to a woman’s uterus for a fresh embryo transfer, and any extras can be frozen and stored to use later in a frozen embryo transfer. 

Frozen embryos can be screened for genetic abnormalities with pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidy, or PGT-A for short. Although it comes at an additional cost, PGT-A can offer useful information about embryos’ genetic makeup, including any abnormalities that could keep them from implanting into the uterine wall. While PGT-A can be done as part of any IVF cycle, it’s usually recommended when the egg provider is over 35 years old. 

After an embryo is transferred, patients typically wait 9 days before taking a pregnancy test. If it’s positive, they can carry the pregnancy like any other. If it’s negative, they can start a new embryo transfer preparation cycle to start the process over again and transfer one of their remaining embryos.6

IVF can be exciting, stressful, and emotionally exhausting. Many people have found counseling and support groups helpful in their journey to parenthood.

The bottom line

IVF is a scientifically proven way to help people conceive. It can be time consuming, expensive, and emotionally taxing, taking several weeks of appointments and injections before an embryo transfer and thousands of dollars per round. It’s not unusual to go through multiple cycles of IVF before giving birth to a child.

a woman reading a book

What factors impact IVF success rates?

Doctors and scientists studying fertility learn more every year, and IVF success rates have improved over the past several decades.

Although pregnancy and birth rates have increased over the last 30 years for people of all ages, an egg’s age plays an important role in the success of IVF treatment.7

If you’re older than 42, the chances of success may be limited, and you should only attempt IVF treatment with your own eggs after a detailed medical evaluation of your individual chances. Your doctor might recommend using donor eggs.8

The bottom line

Treatment and medication protocols are different for every person. Typically, IVF is a treatment of cumulative chances, meaning the more attempts you make at IVF treatment, the higher your chances of success are, as you will have more embryos to transfer.9 Because egg age factors significantly into the success of IVF treatment, the younger you are when you start treatment, the higher your likelihood of success.

A chart showing decreasing percentage of women having live births with increasing age

How much does IVF cost?

The average cost of one round of IVF, from egg collection through embryo transfer, is:

IVF Treatment process

Base cost of IVF:
$13,000

a doctor holding a test tube

Additional procedures:

$3,000

Two needles and a doctor's hands

Medication:

$2,000-$5,000

IVF Treatment process - needles, test tubes and doctor's hands

Total average cost:
$19,500

In general, the cost depends on your clinic, the medication your doctor prescribes, and whether your insurance will help cover any of the costs.

Medication

Your doctor will prescribe the protocol that they think will work best for you based on your initial evaluation and ovarian reserve testing. If you decide to go through multiple cycles of IVF your doctor will be able to better understand the medication protocols that work best for your body.

Depending on your situation, there may be multiple options, including traditional protocols, low responder protocols, “natural” cycles, which don’t use any medication and are less expensive, or “mild” IVF cycles, which use less medication and are slightly less expensive than “traditional” IVF. Your doctor will be able to tell you which option(s) will be best for you.

Unexpected fees

The minimum cost for traditional IVF in the US starts at $18,000 including medication and all essential procedures. If you need help financing your IVF treatment, consider applying for a Gaia Plan, which will cover all your treatment costs and allow you to start treatment for as little as a protection fee.

ultrasound of a pregnant woman

The bottom line

The cost of Standard IVF in the US starts at $18,000, including medication and all essential procedures. If you need help financing your IVF treatment, consider applying for a Gaia Plan, which will cover all your treatment costs and allow you to start treatment for as little as a protection fee.

Common questions asked about IVF

Your fertility doctor will be able to answer your specific questions about your unique treatment plan, but there are a handful of questions that nearly every patient asks:

What does IVF stand for?
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IVF stands for in vitro fertilization. “In vitro” translates to “in glass” in Latin. The dishes used to fertilize the eggs and sperm are glass, so it literally means “fertilization in glass”.

What are some potential side effects of IVF treatment?
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For many people, the stress of treatment can take a toll. Others feel side effects from medication, such as bloating, irritability, headaches, hot flashes, or feeling down.13 Some people report side effects from specific medications. Read more about specific medications and their side effects.

How long does IVF take?
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In total, it takes two weeks for the stimulation, plus one week if you’re transferring a fresh embryo. If you’re transferring a frozen embryo, you’ll wait until your next menstrual cycle begins to start preparations for the transfer. It takes about 3 weeks from the start of your period until you transfer a frozen embryo.

What are the risks associated with IVF treatment?
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IVF can be both emotionally and physically challenging, requiring significant time, energy, and money to complete treatment. Some people don’t respond to medication well and may have to stop treatment early, before any eggs can be retrieved or embryos can be created, which can be frustrating and expensive.

Medical risks are rare (<0.5%) but include ovarian torsion, damage to the ovary or surrounding organs at the time of egg retrieval, bleeding, infection, or ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. There is a slightly increased risk above the general population for ectopic pregnancy following an embryo transfer. The risk of having twins or triplets is extremely rare now that single embryo transfers are prioritized.

Is IVF painful?
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Everyone’s experience is different depending on their pain tolerance. Some parts of the process that might cause discomfort include giving yourself injections, bloating from hormonal stimulation, the recovery after an egg retrieval, and mild cramping from an embryo transfer. The process can also be emotionally taxing. The Gaia community can be a great resource for people going through IVF treatment. Learn more about the community.

Do people do IVF more than once?
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Many people do, but it completely depends on your goals and how you respond to treatment. Some people do multiple cycles in order to bank additional embryos for future family building or if they are unsuccessful in achieving their desired outcome in their first cycle. Your doctor might encourage you to do multiple cycles of treatment, but you should feel empowered to decide when you want to stop.

Is Standard IVF a good option for me?

It’s best to consult a fertility specialist and go through initial fertility testing to better understand the path that’s right for you and what treatments you might be eligible for and what your likelihood of success would be with each type.

Depending on factors including your age, body type, and fertility history, you might be eligible for a Gaia Plan to finance your IVF treatment.

Who is Standard IVF most suitable for?

Because Standard IVF uses one partner’s sperm and another partner’s eggs, it is a suitable option for heterosexual couples.

If you’re in a same sex relationship or plan to raise a child as a single parent, you might want to look at egg donor IVF or sperm donor IVF. Read our guides for other treatments that could be suitable for you:

Still have questions about IVF?

If you have any other questions about IVF we haven’t answered, DM us on Instagram.

“I would always suggest writing down your questions before an appointment, and join a support group to engage with others who understand what it’s like to go through fertility treatment.”

a woman smiling

Ogechi

Age: 34
Diagnosis: None
Treatment: IVF with donor sperm
Treatment history: 3 IUI treatments

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