In vitro fertilisation

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is one of the main methods used to help people conceive. Treatment begins with stimulation of the ovaries and includes collecting eggs and sperm, fertilising the eggs outside the woman's body, and placing 1 or 2 of the embryos into the womb.

What is a full cycle of IVF?

A full cycle of IVF is one in which 1 or 2 embryos produced from eggs collected after ovarian stimulation are replaced into the womb as fresh embryos (where possible), with any remaining good‑quality embryos frozen for use later (see freezing embryos after IVF). When these frozen embryos are used later, this is still considered to be part of the same cycle.

What are my chances of having a baby with IVF?

For women, the chance of success with IVF depends partly on your age. The older you are, the less likely you are to have a baby.

IVF is more effective for women who have been pregnant or had a baby before. The chances of having a baby fall with the number of unsuccessful cycles of IVF you have already had.

If you or your partner drink more than 1 unit of alcohol a day this will lessen your chance of success through IVF. This may also be the case if you or your partner smoke. Treatment with IVF is also more effective for women who have a BMI between 19 and 30. For women, drinking caffeinated drinks also lessens your chance of success through IVF.

Who should be offered IVF?

If IVF is a possible treatment for you, your doctor should first discuss with you the risks and benefits of IVF treatment, in line with the Code of Practice produced by the HFEA (www.hfea.gov.uk).

Women aged under 40 years

If you are a woman aged under 40 you should be offered 3 full cycles of IVF if:

  • you have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sexual intercourse for a total of 2 years or

  • you are using artificial insemination to conceive and you have not become pregnant after 12 cycles – at least 6 of these cycles should have been using intrauterine insemination.

However, if your tests show that there appears to be no chance of you conceiving naturally and that IVF is the only treatment that is likely to help, you should be referred straightaway for IVF.

Any previous cycles of IVF you have had (including cycles that you have paid for yourself) will count towards the 3 cycles you should be offered by the NHS. This is because the chances of having a baby fall with the number of unsuccessful cycles of IVF.

Your doctor should also take into account how you responded to any previous IVF treatment and what the outcome was when deciding how effective and safe further IVF would be for you.

If you turn 40 during a cycle of IVF, you can finish the current full cycle but you should not be offered further cycles. You will still be able to have any frozen embryos transferred from your most recent episode of ovarian stimulation since these count as part of the same full cycle.

Women aged 40–42 years

If you are a woman aged 40–42 years you should be offered 1 full cycle of IVF if all of the following apply:

  • you have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sexual intercourse for a total of 2 years or you have not become pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination (at least 6 of these cycles should have been through intrauterine insemination)

  • you have never had IVF treatment before

  • your fertility tests show that your ovaries would respond normally to fertility drugs

  • you and your doctor have discussed the risks of fertility treatment and pregnancy in women aged 40 years or older.

If your tests show that there appears to be no chance of you conceiving naturally and that IVF is the only treatment that is likely to help, you should be referred straightaway for IVF.

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