New to IVF? Not sure how long the whole IVF process timeline is?
We talk about timings, what happens, and how long everything takes, from start to finish.
If you’re taking your first steps on the road to in vitro fertilization (IVF), the journey ahead might feel very unclear.
It can be a long ride, and everyone’s individual path will be slightly different.
While your exact IVF experience will be unique, there are steps that almost everyone will go through.
So whether you’ve already signed up for IVF or are still weighing up your fertility treatment options, here’s your typical step-by-step IVF process timeline.
In this article: 📝
- What are the four stages of IVF?
- On what day of your cycle does IVF start?
- What is the IVF process timeline?
- How many rounds of IVF does it usually take to get pregnant?
- How long is the IVF process from start to finish?
What are the four stages of IVF?
The four stages of IVF are:
- Ovarian stimulation
- Egg retrieval
- Sperm retrieval and fertilization
- Embryo transfer
Let’s take a closer look at what each of those means:
1. Ovarian stimulation
Each IVF cycle begins with a set of prescreening tests to understand your medical history, and fertility.
Accordingly, medications are then advised to stimulate the growth of multiple eggs in the ovaries (AKA ovulation stimulation).
This is done to make the ovaries produce multiple eggs rather than the single one that usually develops each month.
Well, it’s all about maximizing the chances of success once you get to fertilization.
Usually, you’ll need a couple of weeks of ovarian stimulation and growth monitoring via ultrasound.
Right before eggs are ready for retrieval, a final trigger shot of hCG is provided to mature the eggs, and the egg retrieval occurs 36 hours post the shot.
2. Egg retrieval
You’ll probably have had vaginal ultrasound or blood tests done during the monitoring phase of stimulation, to check egg growth in your ovaries.
In natural cycles, an egg ovulates, and waits around for the sperm to arrive.
But in IVF, the eggs aren’t allowed to ovulate naturally.
Instead, your eggs are matured via a trigger shot, retrieved and sent to the embryology lab right before you ovulate.
If it’s your first cycle and you haven’t had many follicles grow, or haven’t responded well to medication, don’t lose hope.
Your doctor might recommend testing, exploring alternative methods and modifying your medication dosage accordingly.
Your doctor might also discuss egg donation with you at this stage, if necessary.
This can happen if you voluntarily opt, or if excess eggs are retrieved in the cycle.
For the egg retrieval itself, you should be under general anesthetic.
The proper name for the procedure is “transvaginal ultrasound aspiration” — which, yep, sounds a little scary.
But don’t worry, it’s a very safe and standardized procedure.
As part of the egg retrieval, an ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina.
Then, a thin needle (connected to a suction device) retrieves the eggs.
Yes, it sounds like the opposite of fun — but remember, you should be under anesthesia, so you won’t feel anything.
Some side effects are possible after the egg retrieval procedure, including:
- Bloating and cramping
- Breast tenderness (from the hormones)
- Vaginal discharge
- Slight pain in the vaginal area
While healthcare providers constantly monitor to prevent this, it’s also possible to be at risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) post-egg retrieval.
This is when your body hyper-responds to the medications and produces excessive eggs.
Symptoms of OHSS to be on the lookout for are:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating or tightness in your abdomen
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Rapid weight gain (more than 2.2 pounds in 24 hours)
- Blood clots
- Decreased urination
- Shortness of breath
Mild to moderate symptoms can be dealt with at home with rest and pain relief.
If you have severe symptoms or you’re at all worried, don’t hesitate to call your doctor.
To prevent OHSS for at-risk patients, options like IVM are recommended.
3. Sperm retrieval and fertilization
Whether you’re using your partner’s sperm or donor sperm, your doctor will need the sample ready on the same day as egg retrieval.
Any eggs that look mature and healthy after retrieval are mixed with the sperm soon after collection in a lab.
The chances are every single egg you retrieved won’t be successfully fertilized.
But this is why IVF uses ovarian stimulation to give you multiple shots at success.
The two main fertilization methods are “conventional insemination” (which just means healthy eggs and sperm are mixed and nurtured overnight) and the more complex-sounding “intracytoplasmic sperm injection”.
This is when a single, carefully selected sperm is injected into each egg.
4. Embryo transfer
This is the final step of IVF.
You’ve almost made it!
About two to five days after egg retrieval, your doctor will transfer one or more fertilized embryos into your uterus.
This is known as a fresh embryo transfer.
But in some cases, the embryos can be frozen at this stage, rather than transferred.
This allows doctors to prepare your uterus with medications that support implantation (the ability of the embryo to house itself and grow in the uterus).
In that case, the embryo transfer is done at a later date, known as a frozen embryo transfer.
The number of embryos inserted is up to you, with input from your doctor.
This is a much simpler procedure than egg retrieval, and it’s pretty painless, though you might get a bit of mild cramping afterward.
To insert the embryos into your uterus, your doctor will insert a thin, flexible catheter up through your vagina, through the cervix, and into your uterus.
Then the embryos (either at day 3 or day 5-6 of its growth) will be released into your uterus and the catheter will be removed.
If everything’s successful, the embryo will implant itself in the uterus lining.
After about two weeks, your doctor will probably advise an at-home pregnancy test, or a beta-hCG blood test to see if you’re pregnant.
And that’s it, the full IVF process!
On what day of your cycle does IVF start?
Each “cycle” of IVF begins on day two or three of your period.
As soon as you get your period, call your clinic.
They’ll then book you for ultrasounds and blood work (usually the following day) and prescribe ovary-stimulating medications.
There are quite a few medications involved throughout the IVF cycle.
But you’ll have a treatment calendar telling you what to take on what days, and how long your medication cycle is for.
What is the IVF process timeline?
All in all, your IVF process timeline might look something like this:
- Day 1: Call your doctors on the first day of your period.
- Day 2-3: Start stimulation medications.
- Day 3-14: Monitoring appointments and assessments.
- Day 14: Around this time, you’ll probably take a trigger shot (which stimulates the eggs to mature prior to retrieval
- Day 16: Egg retrieval and sperm processing (either fresh or frozen sample). Fertilization also happens on the same day.
- Day 17: You’ll be told whether fertilization has been a success.
- Day 19-20: Embryo transfer — any remaining fertilized embryos can be frozen and used in later cycles.
- Day 34: After your two-week wait, you’ll have a blood test to see if you’re pregnant.
How many rounds of IVF does it usually take to get pregnant?
Everybody is different when it comes to IVF success.
Some people get pregnant on the first round, and others take several cycles to achieve a pregnancy.
And sadly, some people are never able to get pregnant even after multiple rounds of IVF.
In one UK study, the birth rate from a single round of IVF was 29.5%.
This number stayed the same for women who had 2-4 cycles.
But, and this is the fascinating bit, the percentage jumped to 65.3% for women who had 6 cycles.
What’s the success rate of IVF?
In terms of average success rates, it’s difficult to say with certainty.
This is because many people stop trying (whether because of IVF costs or other reasons) after one or two rounds of IVF.
These “chances” will also be different depending on factors such as your age, health, and reasons for infertility.
How long is the IVF process from start to finish?
So, how long does IVF take?
Well, one full cycle takes about three weeks.
But that doesn’t mean if you meet with the doctor today you’ll be pregnant in three weeks.
If you start from your very first meeting with your doctor, it will typically be about three to four months before you might expect a pregnancy.
Things that affect timings include what day of your menstrual cycle you have your first consultation.
How your body responds to fertility medications might also mean extra rounds of ovarian stimulation.
For anyone needing multiple cycles, it’s also common to take time off between treatments so you feel mentally and physically ready to go again.
You might also want a break from IVF if you have a big event coming up in your family or at work.
For anyone trying to conceive (TTC), this can be an uncertain time.
There are lots of IVF groups on Peanut, full of women who are there for you, a safe space to share your thoughts, experiences, and voice any concerns.
Whatever the outcome, we’re with you every step of the way.