In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex and often emotionally draining process, but it can be very rewarding for individuals and couples struggling to conceive. One of the most important steps in IVF is the egg retrieval procedure, also known as oocyte retrieval.
This article covers everything you need to know about egg retrieval during IVF, including what it entails, why it’s necessary, and what you can expect during the procedure. We’ll also discuss the risks and side effects of egg retrieval and the success rates of IVF.
What is IVF treatment?
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a fertility treatment that involves fertilizing an egg outside the body in a laboratory. This assisted reproductive technology (ART) method can help people with infertility achieve a successful pregnancy.
IVF is a multi-stage process that begins with fertility testing to assess the reproductive health of both partners. This testing may include blood work or a vaginal ultrasound. Once the initial testing period is complete and the fertility specialist gives the go-ahead for IVF, the person undergoing IVF will start preparing for ovarian stimulation.
Do I need IVF?
Whether or not a person is a good candidate for IVF depends on various factors, including:
- Age: Fertility declines with age, especially for women in their late 30s and beyond. This is because women are born with a finite number of eggs (ovarian reserve), and the quantity and quality of these eggs deteriorate with age. IVF success rates also decline with age.
- Fertility: IVF isn’t the only fertility treatment available, but it may be recommended for individuals and couples who have underlying reproductive conditions, such as blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, low sperm count, or anatomical abnormalities that make it difficult to conceive naturally.
- Underlying conditions: Medical conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, and endometriosis, can also impact a person’s fertility and may make IVF a more suitable treatment option.
- Previous fertility treatments: People who’ve undergone other fertility treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or ovulation induction (OI) without success, may be advised to consider IVF as a next step.
Additionally, IVF can be recommended for same-sex couples or single people who want a biological child but may need help with fertilization.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to undergo IVF is a personal one. There’s no right or wrong answer. As long as the individual or couple is informed about the process, the potential risks involved, and the chances of success, they can make an educated decision that aligns with their goals and values.
IVF Success Rates
IVF success rates can vary based on several factors, including the person’s age, the quality of the eggs, the cause of infertility, and the experience of the fertility clinic.
According to the CDC, the following are the average percentage of ART cycles that lead to live birth (using fresh, non-donor eggs or embryos) for people of different ages:
- 35 or younger: 51.1%
- 35-37: 37.1%
- 38-40: 23.7%
- Older than 40: 7.6%
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) collects and publishes data on IVF success rates from fertility clinics across the United States. To learn about the success rates for the RMA clinic closest to you, please select your office; we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how we stack up.
Please note that comparing clinic success rates may not be meaningful because patient medical characteristics, treatment approaches, and entry criteria for ART may vary from clinic to clinic.
The Role of Egg Retrieval During In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
Following ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval is the second step in the IVF process. It’s a minimally invasive surgical procedure performed under sedation or general anesthesia in a fertility clinic or hospital setting.
During egg retrieval, the fertility specialist very carefully collects eggs from the ovaries using a needle that’s guided by ultrasound. The eggs are then examined and selected based on their maturity.
Understanding the Egg Retrieval Procedure
Here is a step-by-step overview of the egg retrieval procedure:
Preparing for the procedure
Before the procedure, it’s essential to follow the instructions provided by the fertility clinic. Some steps may include fasting 12 hours before the procedure and arranging transportation afterward.
The specialist may also ask patients to:
- avoid using hairspray or body lotion on the day of the procedure
- wear comfortable clothing that’s loose and easy to change out of
- avoid smoking, alcohol, and excessive exercise
Timing is everything in the egg retrieval process, so be sure to arrive early.
The egg retrieval procedure is relatively quick, lasting around 10 minutes. It’s performed exactly 36 hours after the patient’s last human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) injection, known as the “trigger shot.”
Before the procedure, an anesthesiologist will administer general anesthesia or sedation to ensure comfort and minimize potential anxiety or discomfort.
Once sedated, the fertility specialist inserts a needle through the vagina and guides it using an ultrasound probe into the ovarian follicles to retrieve the eggs. The eggs are collected in a test tube and transported to an IVF lab. In the IVF lab, the embryologist looks under a microscope to determine if an egg is present in the follicular fluid. The eggs are then placed in a culture dish until ready for sperm insemination, where fertilization occurs.
Fertilization can be done by conventional insemination or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).
- Conventional insemination: This is the most common method of fertilization used in IVF. During conventional insemination, healthy sperm and mature eggs are combined in a lab (in a test tube, petri dish, etc.) and incubated overnight. This allows for natural fertilization to occur between the sperm and eggs.
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI): This is another method of fertilization that may be used during IVF. During ICSI, a single sperm is injected directly into each mature egg using a specialized microneedle.
Egg Retrieval Recovery
Most patients can return home within an hour after the egg retrieval procedure. During recovery, it’s normal to experience some mild cramping or bloating, but this usually subsides within a few days.
The specialist may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection and provide pain medication, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, to help manage any pain.
Here are some additional tips to help facilitate a smooth recovery after egg retrieval:
- drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
- avoid strenuous activities or heavy lifting for a few days
- take it easy and prioritize self-care
- use a heating pad or hot water bottle to help ease any discomfort
What happens to the eggs after they’re aspirated?
The eggs remain under the careful monitoring of embryologists to track their development. This is typically done for three to five days or until they reach the blastocyst stage of development. RMA offers extended embryo cultures for up to seven days for more comprehensive monitoring and selection of the best-quality embryos.
If the patient opts for preimplantation genetic testing (PGT), the embryologist gently removes about five cells from a part of the embryo that will go on to make the placenta. Embryo biopsy has been shown to be a safe procedure that does not harm the embryo or the baby that develops from it. After the testing, the fertilized eggs are frozen or transferred to the uterus for implantation.
Frozen embryo transfer (FET) is the standard of care for all IVF patients at RMA. This involves freezing the embryos using a process called vitrification, which is a rapid freezing technique that preserves their viability.
Average Number of Eggs Retrieved during IVF
The average number of eggs retrieved during IVF varies from person to person. It can depend on age, ovarian reserve, and response to fertility medications.
Generally, the average number of eggs retrieved during IVF is between eight and 15. However, some people may retrieve fewer than eight eggs, while others may retrieve more than 15. Individuals with PCOS, for example, can have more than 40 eggs retrieved at one time.
While there’s no “good” number of eggs retrieved during IVF, having 10 to 12 mature eggs will give any person a good chance at having at least one normal embryo for transfer. This equates to a 65% chance of a successful pregnancy. A person with three normal embryos has a 95% chance of a successful pregnancy.
Egg Retrieval Risks & Side Effects
Like any medical procedure, egg retrieval during IVF has risks and potential side effects.
Potential side effects of egg retrieval include:
- breast tenderness
- vaginal discharge
Potential risks of IVF include:
- ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)
OHSS can be mild or severe. If your physician suspects that you might be at high risk for severe OHSS, different trigger shots can be used to minimize the chance of severe OHSS.
Symptoms of mild OHSS include:
- mild bloating
- weight gain
Symptoms of severe OHSS include:
- severe abdominal pain
- shortness of breath
- decreased urination
In severe cases, OHSS can be life-threatening. However, most OHSS symptoms subside within seven to 10 days after fertility treatment.
People with any of the above symptoms should contact their healthcare provider immediately for further evaluation and guidance.
A note from RMA Network
Deciding to undergo IVF can be a big decision, and we know it can be overwhelming. We’re committed to providing you with the information and support you need to make the right choice for your family.
If you’re struggling with infertility and considering IVF, reach out to us, and we’ll walk you through the process step-by-step and help you make the best decision for your unique situation. We’ll be with you every step of the way.
At RMA, we understand that IVF is a journey, not just a destination. We’re here to support you every step of the way, from the initial consultation to the final transfer. We’ll provide you with the information and resources you need to make informed decisions about your treatment.