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Understanding IVF (in vitro fertilisation)

20 March, 2020

What is IVF?

In vitro fertilisation or IVF, is a technique that can help a woman get pregnant. It is a way of fertilising a woman’s egg with a man’s sperm in a laboratory with the aim of creating an embryo. The embryo is then transferred into a woman’s womb.

If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, you’re not alone - infertility affects 10-15% of couples of reproductive age.

When should you consider IVF?

You’re not usually thought to have fertility problems until you have been trying to fall pregnant for 12 months. If you’re over 30, some suggest allowing at least six months before seeking help, but you may want to want to get advice sooner if you’re in your late 30’s or early 40’s. When you’re considering IVF, it’s important to remember there are also other fertility treatments available such as hormone medications to stimulate ovulation.

On average, a woman has about a one in five chance of becoming pregnant and having a baby in each IVF cycle. The chance of success varies with age, and it is higher for women younger than 35, and lower for older women. By age 44, the chance of success is less than 1 in 10.

You might want to think about IVF if you or your partner has one of the following conditions:

  • low sperm count
  • problems with ovulation due to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome
  • problems with the fallopian tubes
  • endometriosis

Some people may also choose to try IVF if they have a serious genetic condition that they don’t want to pass on to their children. In these cases, they may choose to use donor sperm or donor eggs. In other cases, men or women who have cancer may freeze their sperm or eggs before they have radiotherapy or chemotherapy. These frozen sperm or eggs can be used in IVF.

If you’re thinking about trying IVF, the first step is to see your GP. They can provide you with information and refer you to a specialist if needed.

What happens in the IVF process?

Pregnancy, Birth and Baby outline the below steps in the IVF process:

  1. Ovary stimulation

    A woman has injections of fertility hormones that stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. A woman usually only produces one egg each menstrual cycle.

  2. Egg collection

    The woman is put under light sedation, and the eggs are then collected using a fine needle.

  3. Egg fertilisation

    A man’s sperm is then used to fertilise the eggs in a laboratory. Successfully fertilised eggs are grown in an incubator in the laboratory. At the end of this process, healthy embryo’s are collected. 

  4. Embryo transfer

    One or two of the healthy embryos are then transferred to the woman’s womb with the hope that they will successfully implant and the woman will become pregnant. Remaining healthy embryos can be frozen and used later if needed.

  5. Pregnancy test

A pregnancy blood test is normally taken two weeks after the embryo transfer.

Managing emotions through IVF

When considering IVF, it’s important to keep in mind the emotional toll the process can have on you and your partner. It’s common to feel a range of emotions during the IVF process, particularly when you’ve had several unsuccessful cycles. You might feel a sense of hopelessness or despair. It’s also common to feel a sense of overwhelm due to information overload and to struggle to make decisions.

If you’re already trying IVF and you’re experiencing a low mood that has started to affect other aspects of your life, it might be time to seek help. If you have concerns about your mental health, it’s best to see your GP. They can assess your mental health, prescribe some medication, and refer you to a mental health professional if needed. There are also several phonelines that can help.

For immediate help in a crisis:

You can read more about emotions when going through IVF or depression and IVF at the Centre of Perinatal Excellence.

How much does IVF cost?

Many IVF clinics charge per cycle of IVF, so your costs will depend on how many cycles you choose to have. There are also charges for diagnostic tests, some medications and theatre fees that may not be in the initial quote. IVF can cost up to several thousand dollars, even with private health insurance and the Medicare rebate.

As it’s expensive to get pregnant if you need IVF, it’s a good idea to register for the Medicare Safety Net. The Medicare Safety Net can help to lower your out-of-pocket medical costs for out of hospital services. You don’t need to register if you’re single. If you register as a family or couple, Medicare will combine your medical costs and this means you could reach the threshold faster.

More information

Online resources


  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 – you can speak with a maternal child health nurse and the free service is available from 7am to midnight every day.


 All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.


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