Couples who are planning to start a family may have heard about IVF and AI (Artificial Insemination). These are just two of the most common treatments a doctor may suggest for those who have issues with infertility and need help getting pregnant. What exactly are IVF and AI? How effective are they? What are the risks and side effects?
What is IVF?
IVF stands for In Vitro Fertilization. IVF is the most commonly utilized type of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Simply put, IVF is the process of taking out the eggs from a woman’s ovaries and fertilizing them with sperm. When the embryo is finally in optimal status, it is then implanted into a woman’s uterus.
This process involves 5 steps:
- Ovulation induction. The first step includes taking fertility medications to produce several eggs that are fit for fertilization. This step usually lasts for a few months. During this period, your doctor will require regular blood tests and ultrasounds to monitor the production of eggs.
- Egg retrieval. Once your body has produced ample matured eggs, this is a go signal for the next step. After giving anesthesia, using an ultrasound probe as a guide, your doctor will insert a needle that is connected to a suction device through your vagina going to your ovary and follicles that contain your eggs. The suction device will then be used to take the eggs out of each follicle.
- Insemination. In a testing ground, the eggs will be mixed with the sperm in a petri dish. However, sperm that have low motility or movement may be inserted directly into the eggs to stimulate fertilization.
- Embryo culture. To guarantee that the eggs are dividing and developing, your doctor will observe and monitor the progress.
- Embryo transfer. Typically 3-5 days after fertilization, the embryos are then suitable to transfer. The doctor uses a catheter to implant the embryos into your uterus, inserting it into your vagina, through your cervix, and finally into your uterus.
Side Effects and Risks
Below are some of the side effects and risks that come along with IVF:
- Ectopic pregnancy (fertilized egg growing outside of the uterus)
- Multiple pregnancies (may elevate the risk of low birth weight and premature birth)
- Infection, bleeding, cramping, and mood swings
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (a condition that causes the ovaries to swell and become painful)
What is Artificial Insemination?
Just like IVF, Artificial Insemination or AI is a fertility treatment method. Compared to IVF, however, it is less invasive and less expensive. AI is carried out by injecting the sperm directly into a woman’s cervix, uterus, or fallopian tube (depending on the type of AI). Unlike IVF, there is no need to take the eggs out of the uterus.
There are various types of AI. In this article, we will focus on the two most effective approaches:
- Intracervical insemination or ICI is usually the easiest type of AI. First, the doctor ensures that your ovaries will release multiple eggs to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant. This is done by prescribing ovulation-inducing medications. You can also do your part by monitoring your ovulation cycle. Afterward, sperm will be collected from your partner or a donor. It is then inserted into the vagina, going to the cervix using a special syringe or a cervical cap. To let the sperm travel up to the uterus, you will be instructed to lie down for about 15-30 minutes. After this procedure, you will be permitted to resume your normal activities. A pregnancy test should be taken after two weeks or longer. Depending on what your doctor suggests.
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI) has a similar process to ICI. The difference is that the sperm is inserted directly into the uterus. Additionally, the semen (a fluid that contains millions of sperm) is prepared or “washed” to get rid of potential proteins that could disrupt fertilization. This will help in increasing the chances of getting pregnant.
Side Effects and Risks
Potential risks and side effects vary from woman to woman. For some, there is little chance of any risk or side effects or none at all. However, some of the potential side effects are as follows:
- Cramping and light bleeding
- Pelvic infection or inflammation
- Multiple pregnancies (may increase the possibility of low birth weight or early labor)
Technology has undoubtedly changed the way matters are carried out, including the methods of conceiving. Still, before making a decision, it is always best to talk to your healthcare provider since infertility issues are resolved on a case-to-case basis.