Fertilization outside the womb: hope for infertile couples
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 6.1 million people, or 10% of the reproductive-age population in the United States, are infertile. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines infertility as a condition in which a woman has not been able to get pregnant after six to 12 months of unprotected sex.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that helps a woman become pregnant. Normally, in natural conception, the egg cell of the mother and the sperm cell of the father meet in the uterus (womb) and fuse (fertilize) together to become a human embryo. However, when one partner is infertile, either due to problems with producing eggs or healthy sperm, assisted reproduction may be a viable option to conceive a child.
In vitro fertilization is done by fertilizing the sperm and the egg in a laboratory dish instead of in the mother’s womb. In vitro literally means “in glass” (laboratory dish or test tube), thus “outside the body.”
IVF begins with the woman receiving fertility drugs or hormone injections so that a woman’s ovaries produce more than one egg per month, increasing chances of fertilization. (Donated eggs can be used if the woman cannot produce eggs.) The eggs are then removed from the ovaries and placed together with the sperm (also called insemination). Usually the sperm enters the egg in only a matter of hours. The sperm may sometimes be injected into the egg if the sperm have problems with fertilizing.
In about three to five days, an embryo will have developed which will then be placed inside the woman’s womb to grow. With IVF, couples can consider preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) three to four days after fertilization to screen for genetic disorders that may be passed on to the child. Parents may decide to implant more than one embryo at the same time to produce twins or more.