Reasons for Having IVF

In the UK IVF is broadly used for a number of different reasons by carefully regulated clinics under the watchful eye of the HFEA (Human Fertility and Embryology Association). IVF is often performed as a form of assisted conception for couples with infertility, same sex couples, and single mothers looking to have children. This article discusses why and how a couple would make use of IVF to treat their infertility.

Infertility and why IVF might be needed

Pregnancy is achieved through you and your partner’s sex cells. Men and women both contribute their own genetic material to a new-born child through sexual intercourse, which introduces male sperm cells to female egg cells, the fusion of these is called fertilisation, the means by which the many events which culminate to end in childbirth begin. Infertility for either sex can involve anything which disrupts the processes by which egg and sperm can successfully meet and fuse. What IVF aims to do is sidestep this disruption and get sperm and egg to do what they do naturally in an artificial environment which is designed to give them the best chance to fertilise.

IVF as a treatment for infertility

IVF offers infertile couples the opportunity to get pregnant, a feat which has brought many couples the joys of natural, healthy pregnancy, childbirth, and everything that follows. Even if surrounded by some debate, IVF’s benefits are best espoused by the many couples in the UK alone who have had their lives changed by the procedure.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines a couple as infertile if they are unable to conceive a child after 12 months of if women under the age of 34. If she is over 35 then infertility will be diagnosed after just 6 months of trying, this is due to the fact that fertility is expected to reduce with age. NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence), however, will not classify you as infertile until you have been unsuccessful in conceiving for 2 years. What this means is that in the UK infertility treatments aren’t really considered unless you have been trying to conceive for 2 years through regular sexual intercourse.

If you have trouble conceiving you may only be classed as sub-fertile if you already have a child, this means that you are in the bracket of having a 3-5% chance of conceiving naturally. Depending on the couple’s circumstances, there are a variety of options available. If it is just the woman that is infertile, the couple may wish to have an egg donated. This egg is then fertilised by a sample of the male partner’s sperm, and implanted into the woman's uterus. If the process is successful, the implanted egg will progress as it would through a natural fertilisation, and the baby will be carried throughout the pregnancy.

If male infertility is the problem then IVF can also be used, particularly alongside another technique called ICSI (Intra-cytosolic Sperm Injection). ICSI is, simply put, the direct insertion of a sperm cell into an egg, which takes the element of chance out of the equation and can sidestep male infertility issues like sperm motility and count to achieve pregnancy and successful IVF.

When is IVF not suitable?

IVF is not an option if a female partner is infertile due to the fact that her womb is unable to sustain a pregnancy. The womb, also known as the uterus, is a specialist organ that all women have to support the growth of a child. The uterus can be damaged through disease, infection, and surgery, and in a few cases can be damaged from birth.

 In these cases the couple may wish to use a surrogate mother using their own eggs and sperm. It is important to note however that surrogacy is still surrounded by a number of different ethical and legal debates, and is not the right option for everyone. Talking to your doctor is the best way to determine what to do next if IVF is not for you.

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