In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)

The specialists at the Washington University Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Center have been helping families achieve pregnancy through in vitro fertilization (IVF) for over 30 years. In May 2005, families gathered at a reunion to celebrate their success through this program. One person present was the first baby born through the in vitro fertilization process.

IVF is an effective method for producing pregnancies. Today 1-2% of all births in the United States are a result of IVF.

IVF can seem overwhelming at first, but your doctor will explain the process carefully, setting expectations and a checklist of required steps.

There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about what IVF is, what it costs, risks, what the success rates are, risks of multiples, etc. And everyone’s IVF experience can vary depending on their reason for doing IVF.

IVF is emotionally, physically and financially taxing. Patients are encouraged to ask questions at any time. The more you know, the more relaxed the process can be.

What is IVF

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a procedure in which eggs (oocytes) are retrieved from a woman’s ovaries after she has undergone controlled ovarian hyperstimulation. The eggs are mixed (either conventionally or with ICSI) with her partner’s or donor’s sperm in a culture dish. Fertilization takes place without additional procedures.

Most of the fertilized eggs should develop into embryos. The embryos are then transferred to the woman’s uterus via a plastic tube inserted through the cervix during a process called an embryo transfer. If all goes accordingly, the embryo(s) attach into the uterus in the normal way, and pregnancy progresses naturally. We encourage certain, eligible patients to consider the transfer of one embryo to reduce the risks of multiples.

As noted above, depending on each patient’s situation, many variations can occur during this process.

IVF is a Multi-step process

  • Prestimulation
    1. Physician plan – individualized to the couple’s needs
    2. Medical and financial clearance
    3. Scheduling of the cycle
  • Stimulation/Monitoring
    1. Baseline testing/monitoring and stimulation of the ovaries
  • Egg retrieval
  • Embryo transfer (Day 3 or Day 5 embryos)
  • Pregnancy test
Stages of Embryo Development from Zygote (Day 1) to Blastocyst (Day 5)

Stages of Embryo Development from Zygote (Day 1) to Blastocyst (Day 5)


Women ready for IVF are monitored frequently via ultrasound and blood hormone levels prior to the egg extraction. They are given HCG which is designed to foster the maturation process of the eggs and seen 36 hours later for egg retrieval. The eggs are collected through the vagina with a special transvaginal ultrasound probe with a needle that drains each follicle in the ovaries. Women are sedated for this procedure.

In a typical year, our IVF program performs over 550-600 cycles. For 2013, the clinical pregnancy rate for all patients in our IVF program using fresh embryos from non-donor eggs, including those with male factor, with or without ICSI were*:

  • 58 percent of patients under age 35
  • 54 percent for those 35-37
  • 37 percent for those 38-40
  • 19 percent for those 41 and older

(A clinical pregnancy is one in which ultrasound examination has documented one or more intrauterine gestational sacs.)

*A comparison of clinic success rates may not be meaningful because patient medical characteristics and treatment approaches may vary from clinic to clinic.

SART membership

Our center is a member of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). SART’s mission is to set and help maintain the standards for assisted reproductive technology (ART), in an effort to better serve both members and patients. SART governs its members in the areas of research, quality assurance and practice guidelines and standards, government interaction, and data collection. SART members adhere to the highest standards of reproductive care.