We know: All About In Vitro Fertilization

What is In Vitro Fertilization?

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a procedure made famous with the 1978 birth of Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube baby." IVF is often used when a woman's fallopian tubes are blocked or when a man has low sperm counts.

How does IVF work?

A drug is used to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Once mature, the eggs are removed and placed in a culture dish with the man's sperm for fertilization. After about 40 hours, the eggs are examined to see if they have become fertilized by the sperm and are dividing into cells. These fertilized eggs (embryos) are then placed in the woman's uterus, thus bypassing the fallopian tubes.

How expensive is in vitro fertilization?

Expect the cycle of the procedure to cost at least $10-12,000.

Is in vitro fertilization covered by medical insurance?

It depends on your insurance coverage and where you live. California, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Ohio, Rhode Island, and West Virginia have laws that require insurers to offer some form of coverage.

Are there other, similar procedures to help with fertilization?

Yes. Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is the term used for special methods to help infertile couples. ART involves handling both the woman's eggs and the man's sperm. Success rates vary and depend on many factors. ART can be expensive and time-consuming. But ART has made it possible for many couples to have children that otherwise would not have been conceived.

What other assisted reproductive methods are there?

Two other technologies are:

Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) is similar to IVF, but used when the woman has at least one normal fallopian tube. Three to five eggs are placed in the fallopian tube, along with the man's sperm, for fertilization inside the woman's body.

Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), also called tubal embryo transfer, combines IVF and GIFT. The eggs retrieved from the woman's ovaries are fertilized in the lab and placed in the fallopian tubes rather than the uterus.

Do these technologies ever use donor eggs?

Yes. ART procedures sometimes involve the use of donor eggs (eggs from another woman) or previously frozen embryos. Donor eggs may be used if a woman has impaired ovaries or has a genetic disease that could be passed on to her baby.

Some of the information for this article was made available by the National Women's Health Information Center.

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