The most frequently asked questions about fertility treatment cycles always includes the infamous “how long does an IVF cycle really take from start to finish?” Finally, a reliable answer from an expert: Christina Dias, RN, Fertility Nurse Manager of RMACT.
Christina, from Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT), answers the all-important question about the length of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process so that you can plan your life and time while undergoing IVF.
While four weeks is the typical amount of time spent in an IVF cycle, that is only after all necessary testing is completed. Four weeks does not include the wait time for a pregnancy test, which adds another ten days to two weeks to the timeline.
IVF Cycle: From the Beginning
Before the IVF cycle
IVF patients will frequently be put on oral contraceptives 10–14 days before beginning their fertility medication injections. Although using birth control as part of the IVF process may seem counter intuitive, studies suggest that when used prior to ovarian stimulation, it may prevent a split cohort of follicles (the fluid filled pockets that house the eggs), where only one or two follicles develop and mature. The hope is to have more follicles and therefore more eggs to retrieve.
While four weeks is the typical amount of time spent in an IVF cycle, that is only after all necessary testing is completed.
After all diagnostic fertility testing is completed and any courses of oral contraceptives have been finished, a fertility patient can expect to be on injections of fertility medications for about nine to eleven days. This is only an average as some patients need a longer medication stimulation period and some patients need less. The different protocols used by your fertility specialist (a board certified reproductive endocrinologist), as well as each individual patient’s response to the medications, account for the different amounts of time.
If you’re doing an IVF cycle, it’s a good idea to block out at least a week and a half for this step, during which the ovaries are stimulated with injectable medications. Plan on being in your fertility program's office approximately every other day for an ultrasound and blood monitoring. The monitoring takes about 15–20 minutes and typically takes place between 7–8 am. Your doctor or nurse will inform you of next steps in your fertility cycle protocol during each visit or will call with directions later in the day.
Once the follicles are mature, the next step in the IVF process will be egg retrieval. This is a one-day procedure (plan on a few hours at your fertility program), after which the eggs and sperm are sent to the IVF lab to fertilize and grow. At RMACT, we like to see the eggs grow as cells divide and multiply for five days. While some fertility clinics transfer embryos back after only three days in the IVF lab, research shows that better pregnancy and take-home baby rates are achieved with day five transfers.
After the eggs and sperm have fertilized and have continued to either day three or day five embryos, then it’s time to transfer the embryo back to the uterus. ASRM guidelines, which all reputable IVF programs adhere to, will help the patient and doctor decide on how many embryos to transfer to the patient. The embryo transfer is also a one-day procedure and typically takes about 20 minutes.
Next is a waiting period to see if the embryo implants in the uterus. This typically takes ten days and depends on the maturity of the embryo at the time of transfer.
All told, from the beginning of using oral contraceptives to the wait after an embryo transfer, the process of an IVF cycle takes about four weeks.
Having a big picture of the timetable of an IVF cycle and understanding the schedule of each step can make the procedures feel much more manageable. Remember, after you understand the IVF cycle in its entirety, taking the fertility treatment cycle one step at a time is all that you need to do.