What Is IVF?

ivf baby

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a fertility treatment that is used for couples who have been diagnosed with infertility, meaning they have been unable to achieve pregnancy after trying for one year — or six months if the woman is over 35. The first baby born from IVF was in Great Britain in 1978, and this fertility treatment has been used to help infertile couples build their families for more than 30 years.

In Latin, the phrase "in vitro" means "within the glass." With in vitro fertilization, the egg is fertilized with sperm in the laboratory — not "in vivo," which would be "within the body."

With IVF, a woman's ovaries are stimulated with fertility drugs in order to produce multiple eggs. These eggs are then fertilized in the lab by either placing the eggs and sperm together to fertilize naturally or by using a procecdure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which one sperm is injected directly into the egg. The fertilized egg, which is now an embryo, is left to develop for several days and then transferred back into the woman's uterus, with the hope that it will implant and grow into a healthy pregnancy.

First developed as a treatment to help women who have blockages or scarring their fallopian tubes get pregnant, IVF is now used routinely to treat infertility caused by many different reasons, including male factor infertility, endometriosis and unexplained infertility. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 147,260 IVF cycles performed in the United States in 2010. More than 1 percent of all infants born in the United States each year are conceived via IVF.