In Vitro Fertilization: Myths & Misconceptions
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an important, literally life-giving option for couples having difficulty getting pregnant. If you're considering the procedure, it's critical to know the facts from the myths.
Myth: IVF causes multiple births.
Reality: Not all women who get pregnant through IVF give birth to multiples, but it is true that IVF outcomes have a greater chance of birthing twins, triplets and more. Forty percent of IVF pregnancies are multiple births (twins are most common), compared to just 2 percent of natural pregnancies.
The likelihood of multiple births are based on the number of embryos transferred, as well as the woman's age. Younger women are more likely to experience multiple births: 29.1 percent of women under 35, compared to just 8.8 percent of women over 42. The chance of multiple births can be eliminated via elective single embryo transfer (eSET), in which only one embryo is selected to be placed in the uterus or fallopian tube.
Myth: IVF hormones significantly impact mood and behavior.
Reality: During the IVF process, hormonal changes such as increased estrogen can cause mood swings, depression or a general feeling of "not being yourself." That's because hormones impact the brain, including how information is processed and responded to.
Anxiety is also common, but more often than not, these feelings are typically related more to the actual process of IVF and the struggle to get pregnant.
But not all women experience these side effects. A study carried out in 2010 found 20 to 30 percent of women who undergo IVF develop symptoms of depression, and another study reported that depression in women who failed IVF treatment rose by 22 percent. But mood and mental health changes related to IVF are not permanent—they begin to fade with appropriate treatment, and of women who undergo multiple cycles, many find side effects are significantly less predominant the second or third time around.
Myth: If I can't get pregnant naturally, IVF is the only option.
Reality: IVF is the most common form of assisted reproductive technology (ART), but by no means the only one. Intrauterine insemination (sperm is inserted directly into the uterus during ovulation), hormonal therapies (gonadotropin therapy) for male partners, and surgery (for women with scarring, fibroids, endometriosis, or tubal or uterine issues) may also be options.
Procedures for which you're eligible depend on previous care and medical conditions. Some of the methods above are recommended to try prior to IVF, as they can be simpler, cheaper, quicker and/or less invasive. In fact, some fertility clinics report that only 20 to 30 percent of their patients decide to try the IVF route.
Myth: IVF is an option for anyone.
Reality: Women with fibroid tumors, abnormal hormone levels and uterine abnormalities may not be good candidates for IVF.
The best candidates for IVF are women with healthy eggs blocked from being fertilized (the tubal factor), including those who have had fallopian tubes severed or removed. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), diminished egg reserves or quality, and irregular ovulation cycles are common causes of infertility that are often overcome with IVF.
Success is also seen by women whose partners have low sperm count or irregularly shaped sperm (the male factor).
Myth: IVF will eventually work if you keep trying.
Reality: Unfortunately, even after as many as eight cycles, IVF does not have a 100 percent success rate. Only 37 percent of IVF cycles result in a pregnancy for women under 35, and that number drops significantly if the candidate is older.
Choosing a clinic with high success rates can help increase your chances, so do your research. Because IVF pregnancies pose a slightly higher risk for miscarriage, you should inquire about both the pregnancy rate and the live birth rate of the clinic.
Myth: IVF increases the risk of maternal cancer and developmental delay in children.
Reality: Infertility, endometriosis and PCOS are each associated with increased risk of cancer, but research has yet to find a link between fertility treatment itself and cancer. Indeed, thus far, studies indicate IVF is not linked to ovarian or endometrial cancer, and while treatments could increase the growth of cancer in breast cancer patients, it does not appear to increase the incidence of it.
Also, while studies indicate IVF does increase risk of preterm birth, low birth weight and birth defects, there's no evidence that IVF increases the risk of developmental delay in children up to 3 years old conceived in this manner.
IVF is a complicated, often frustrating process, and sadly, sometimes couples don't get the desired outcome. However, it's a viable option to consider as long as you understand the risks and can accept the chances of conception.