Navigating the IVF Process with Comfort and Reassurance
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a fertility treatment that fertilizes eggs with sperm in a lab. Couples may choose to have IVF if they have been unsuccessful in getting pregnant on their own or if they are a same-sex couple. While you might worry about how this process will affect you and if it will be painful, our team is here to guide you through each step.
Infertility is more common than you might think. About one in six couples globally experience infertility each year. IVF is one of the options couples may choose to conceive.
The IVF Process and What to Expect During Each Stage
IVF is a complicated process that involves extracting an egg from a woman's ovaries and combining it with sperm in a laboratory. These are the steps that you will want to prepare for during IVF:
The first phase of IVF is ovarian stimulation. During this process, you will give yourself an injectable medication that contains a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), a luteinizing hormone (LH), or a combination of FSH and LH. Synthetic hormones encourage the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, which are gathered during the egg retrieval process.
Ovarian stimulation can cause bloating as your ovaries grow follicles from the stimulating medication. Some women experience a weight gain of five to six pounds during this phase, which can be lost after egg retrieval. Women may experience heightened emotions due to the injection of hormones during ovarian stimulation.
Once you have stimulated your ovaries, the next step is to retrieve your eggs. This procedure requires sedation to ensure you experience no discomfort while the eggs are retrieved.
After your eggs are retrieved, you may experience cramps, pressure, or a sensation of fullness. These are all normal symptoms. You should notify your provider if you experience excessive pain, are unable to eat or drink, or have any fevers after the egg retrieval process.
Sperm collection is when your partner provides a semen sample. The retrieval is coordinated with the timing of egg retrieval. Some couples may choose to use donor sperm.
Collecting sperm involves your partner, or donor, ejaculating into a sample cup using masturbation. However, if a fertility specialist has identified that your partner does not contain sperm in his ejaculate, he may need to have his sperm retrieved directly from the testis or epididymis with a needle. The fertility specialist will coordinate a simple sperm retrieval to be collected some time before the egg retrieval.
Fertilization of the eggs and sperm retrieved occurs in the lab. The eggs retrieved are screened for quality once they've matured. Either a single sperm is injected directly into an egg, or a small drop of concentrated sperm is mixed with each egg. Some couples may choose to freeze eggs before fertilization to use in the future.
After fertilization occurs, embryos will develop in five to six days. When the embryos have developed, a fertility specialist will transfer one embryo to the uterus.
The embryo transfer is usually painless, but some women may feel discomfort. This is typically less discomfort than having a pelvic exam. Sedatives are generally not needed due to the minimal discomfort.
Tips for Managing Discomfort During IVF Stages
While the side effects of IVF are minimal, women undergoing IVF can take measures during each step to maximize their comfort. Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications are considered safe for use during IVF. Discuss this with your fertility specialist, as some medicines may interfere with fertility drugs or cause hormonal imbalances. You should avoid the following medications while undergoing IVF:
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen)
• Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications
• Anti-seizure medications
• Thyroid medications
• Chemotherapy drugs
• Skin products that contain estrogen and progesterone
Managing Injections During Ovarian Stimulation
If you fear needles, you can take measures to overcome this when giving yourself hormone injections for ovarian stimulation. When you inject, you can use breathing techniques and keep yourself hydrated to avoid fainting. You may also want to consider talking with your fertility specialist to determine if a local pain patch would be appropriate when giving yourself the injections.
For hormone injections, there are ways to reduce discomfort. Before giving yourself the injection, allow it to come to room temperature. Ensure you use a new needle with each injection and never reuse a needle. After you've given yourself the injection, apply a cold compress or ice to the site. If the injections are causing discomfort, talk with your fertility specialist about trying OTC acetaminophen. Rotate your injection sites.
Pain Management After Egg Retrieval
When your eggs are retrieved, your provider will use anesthesia to minimize discomfort and pain. It is common to experience mild cramping and abdominal pain after the procedure. You can use OTC pain relievers that your fertility specialist approves to ease this pain. You can soak in a warm bath, place a warm compress over your abdomen, use deep breathing or other relaxation techniques, and ensure you get enough fluids. If you have severe pain or fevers, or cannot eat or drink after the procedure, notify your provider immediately.
Embryo Implantation Expectations
Many women experience no pain during embryo implantation, while others experience mild cramping. If you experience mild cramping, you can try warm compresses to the abdomen, OTC medication approved by your fertility specialist, take a warm shower or bath, or practice relaxation techniques.
You can take action to improve the likelihood of a successful IVF cycle. These actions can help manage any discomforts associated with the IVF process, which include:
• Eat a healthy diet and stay hydrated
• Take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid
• Avoid chemical exposure from everyday sources
• Take time to relax on transfer day and immediately after
• Don’t use a hot tub
• Keep taking your medications
• Abstain from intercourse until approved by your doctor
• Pay attention to what your body is telling you
• Use stress-reduction techniques to make the wait easier
Remember not to rush taking a pregnancy test. Pregnancy tests measure the levels of pregnancy hormones in your urine. These hormones take time to build up to show on a pregnancy test. Taking a test too early could result in false results and disappointment.
Lean on your Support Team for a Comforting IVF Experience
We understand that fertility treatment can be an emotional process, making it crucial to maintain your mental health during treatment. Don't hesitate to connect with your fertility specialist or support team with questions or concerns regarding your IVF experience.
You can take measures to keep your mental health balanced by doing the following:
• Consider infertility counseling
• Participate in relaxation techniques like guided imagery or yoga
• Practice restorative breathing
• Make sure you get plenty of sleep
• Take a warm shower or bath to relax
Focus on the Goal: Building Your Family
While undergoing IVF treatments may be stressful or cause discomfort, you can manage these to ensure a successful IVF cycle. IVF can help you build your family. Talk with one of our specialists today to discuss if IVF is right for you.