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.
Dr. Salim
Reviewed by Dr. Rehan Salim
Medical Director at Lister Fertility
Consultant gynaecologist and expert in reproductive medicine
A few quick facts
IVF stands for in vitro fertilisation. “In vitro” translates to “in glass” in Latin. The dishes used to fertilise the eggs and sperm are glass, so it literally means “fertilisation in glass”
In 2021, there were 76,000 IVF cycles in the UK
There are 390,000 IVF or donor insemination children born in the UK1
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. 2
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 fertilised outside of the womb 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 under anaesthesia. In a lab, embryologists fertilise the mature eggs with sperm to create embryos. A healthy embryo can be transferred to a woman’s womb to carry the pregnancy.3

If you’re transferring an embryo right away, the whole process takes between 4-6 weeks.4

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, go through a procedure called “egg collection” under anaesthesia to collect mature eggs.

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

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

After an embryo is transferred, patients wait a few weeks before taking a pregnancy test. If it’s positive, they can carry the pregnancy like any other. If it’s negative, they can transfer any remaining embryos, or start the process over again.5

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

The bottom line

IVF is a scientifically proven way to help couples conceive. It can be time consuming, expensive, and emotionally taxing, taking several weeks of appointments and injections before an embryo transfer and thousands of pounds per round. It’s not unusual to go through multiple rounds 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.6

If you’re older than 42, the chances of success may be limited and IVF treatment with your own eggs should only be attempted after a detailed medical evaluation of your individual chances. The doctor might recommend using donor eggs.7

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 embryo transfers.8 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, in the UK is:

IVF Treatment process

Base cost of IVF:
£4,000

a doctor holding a test tube

Additional procedures:

£850

Two needles and a doctor's hands

Medication:

£1,700

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

Total average cost:
£6,500

If you’re going through private IVF treatment, the cost depends on your clinic and the medication your fertility doctor prescribes.

Medication

Your doctor will prescribe the protocol that they think will work best for you. If you decide to go through multiple rounds of IVF to increase your chances of pregnancy, 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 “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 “stimulated” IVF. Your doctor will be able to tell you which option(s) will be best for you.

Unexpected fees

Because everyone’s treatment is unique, everyone’s price is unique, too. Clinics often list “ballpark” pricing because patients might need different essential procedures and medications, like embryo freezing and storage for additional embryos created, sedation during egg collection and medication, which can be up to £3,000 on top of your treatment costs.

ultrasound of a pregnant woman

The bottom line

The cost of Standard IVF in the UK is between £4,850-10,000, 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 fertilisation. “In vitro” translates to “in glass” in Latin. The dishes used to fertilise the eggs and sperm are glass, so it literally means “fertilisation 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 irritability, headaches, hot flushes, or feeling down.12 To read more about specific medications and their side effects, visit The Duff.

How long does IVF take?
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Depending on the medication protocol your doctor prescribes, it can take between four and six weeks for a fresh transfer.12

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 can include having twins or triplets or an ectopic pregnancy, where a foetus develops in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus and cannot be carried to term. There’s also a rare, but possible, risk of premature delivery10 and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause dangerous blood clots.11

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 medication. Your doctor might encourage you to do multiple cycles of treatment, but you should feel empowered to decide when you want to stop.

Is IVF painful?
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Everyone has different pain tolerances, and some experiences are less pleasant than others. Some parts of the process that might cause discomfort include giving yourself shots, recovering after an egg retrieval process, 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.

Am I eligible for Standard IVF?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends offering IVF to women under age 43 who have been trying to get pregnant through unprotected sex for 2 years — or who have had 12 rounds of artificial insemination, depending on your personal circumstances.

It’s best to consult a fertility specialist and go through initial fertility testing to better understand the path that’s right for you.

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

Is Standard IVF suitable for me?

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 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 or join our community group.

“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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Get the best of both worlds: reputable information from experts, plus support from peers on their own IVF journeys.

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All fertility treatments

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