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Sperm cells swimming toward an egg to fertilise

IVF treatment

Within this section, you can find information explaining everything about IVF, including what it is, how it works, fertility challenges it can overcome, success rates and costs.

In natural conception, when an egg is ovulated each month, sufficient numbers of actively swimming sperm need to enter the cervix, work their way up the uterus and into the fallopian tubes. An egg must be released from the ovary and make its way down the tube to meet the sperm - the timing for all this needs to be right so that the egg and sperm can combine. Then, if the sperm successfully fertilises the egg, the dividing egg makes it way back down to the uterus to implant into the lining of the womb.

A problem with any of these steps in the reproductive process may result in difficulties in becoming pregnant. There are a number of reasons why this process may not work efficiently and this is where IVF can help. Whilst it is not a cure for infertility, IVF can overcome issues that obstruct natural conception and help people to have a baby.

What is IVF?

IVF (in vitro fertilization) is a fertility treatment where fertilisation happens outside of the body. It is one of several techniques available to help people with fertility problems have a baby.

During the IVF process, eggs are fertilised with sperm in a lab, using either your own eggs and sperm or using donor eggs and sperm. A fertilised egg is called an embryo, which can then be transferred back into the uterus to grow or frozen for transfer later on.

IVF is usually referred to as a cycle, with distinct stages during a cycle. There’s more information on each stage of the IVF process step by step below.

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The IVF Process with Professor Charles Kingland

Professor Charles Kingsland talks through the IVF process from stimulation through to post-embryo transfer and pregnancy scans

What is the IVF process?

The IVF procedure can be broken down into seven main stages. This covers consultations, tests, and the treatment cycle – we’ve broken down the IVF process step by step for you below, so you know what to expect.

At Care, every treatment plan is unique, because we know that your body and your treatment are as unique as you are. Our plans are designed to give each individual patient their best chance of having a baby. 

That means that your plan may vary slightly from this guide, because we want to make sure that you’re getting the right tests and treatment to support your fertility. 

We’ll always explain what’s happening during every step of the process, so that you know what’s going on with your individual IVF treatment plan.

The first step in the IVF process is a consultation with one of our experienced and dedicated fertility specialists – you’ll discuss your health and medical history and the options for your IVF treatment. You might also need some fertility tests, which will help us personalise your treatment plan.

When you arrange a consultation with Care, you will have access to your own Patient Portal where you will find all the information you need and your CarePals co-ordinator will contact you to check if you have any questions, and give you any additional information you need. You will then be ready for your first consultation.

Your consultation will be with one of our team of experienced and dedicated specialists who will focus totally on you and on giving you the most appropriate advice.

We may need to perform certain fertility tests before treatment can be started. The tests are important and will provide us with crucial insights into any causes of infertility, so that we can create the most appropriate treatment plan for you.

You’ll then take a course of fertility drugs to help stimulate your ovaries, to help you produce mature eggs. You’ll have a specific and tailored course and dosage of fertility drugs, personalised for you.

At this stage, fertility drugs are used to stimulate your ovaries, this maximises the number of eggs you will produce in your cycle. There are several different types of drugs and different ways that the drugs can be given. The specific type of regime for you will be your ‘Protocol’. One of the medical or nursing team will go through your Protocol in detail with you, we’ll give you a written outline of everything and any further advice or help will be available whenever you need it from our nursing team.

During the ovarian stimulation phase, we monitor your progress closely to determine the best time for your matured eggs to be collected, and you’ll be told when to take a drug to trigger ovulation. A typical ovarian monitoring phase is 3-7 days.

The exact number of days will vary for each person and will depend on how many eggs have been stimulated and how fast they grow.

You will be told when to take the drug which triggers ovulation. This will be at a very specific time and will determine when you attend the next step of the IVF Process -  egg collection. The ovulation drug is taken in the evening and around 36 hours later, in the morning, you will be ready for egg collection.

Once ovulation has been triggered, your eggs will be retrieved at your fertility clinic. If you’re also giving a sperm sample, we usually collect this at the same time.

Egg collection (Egg Retrieval)

This is a straightforward procedure that takes around 30 minutes and is performed with sedation and pain relief at your fertility clinic. To collect the eggs, we pass a scan probe into the vagina and use ultrasound to guide a needle into one of the ovaries. We then extract eggs from the ovarian follicles; we can usually collect from nearly all the larger follicles. After collection, we recommend you have a short rest before going home.

Sperm collection

We'll usually ask for the sperm sample to be given at the time of the egg collection.

Semen is generally at optimum quality after 2 - 3 days abstinence from ejaculation, so we advise ejaculation 2 -3 days prior to the day of egg and sperm collection and then to abstain until you produce your semen sample.

In certain conditions, sperm are not present in the ejaculate due to the absence or blockage of the tube carrying the sperm from the testes. Surgical sperm retrieval can be performed to obtain sperm from the reproductive tract. Whilst these sperm are functionally competent they can only swim very weakly, if at all.

However, these types of sperm can be injected into and successfully fertilise eggs through ICSI treatment. The only difference between IVF and ICSI is that with ICSI the sperm is injected directly into the egg.

The sperm sample will be prepared and added to the extracted eggs. We then monitor the eggs closely, looking for signs of fertilisation. If the eggs are fertilised, we then grow the embryos in the lab until they’re ready to be transferred into the womb or frozen for transfer in a later cycle.

Once your eggs have been recovered, they will be put into a special culture medium and safely transferred to an incubator to provide exactly the right environment and temperature conditions.

We spin the semen sample in a special media to isolate the dense, good quality sperm. We then wash the isolated sperm in another media to purify the sample.

Next, we fertilise the eggs with sperm to form embryos. We then grow the embryos in carefully controlled conditions until they’re ready to be transferred into the womb. The first signs of fertilisation are shown by the presence of two nuclei within the egg.

If this has occurred, the fertilised egg should then divide in to two, and subsequently three, four or more cell embryos. At this stage, a Care nurse or embryologist will arrange a time to give you your fertilisation result and also when we need to see you again for embryo transfer.

When the embryos are ready to transfer, you’ll come into the fertility clinic, and the embryo will be inserted. It’s a straightforward procedure that only takes around 15 minutes, and usually there’s no need for sedation.

Embryo transfer is straightforward and almost always performed without the need for sedation. Your transfer specialist will use a speculum (like the one used for smear tests) and the embryologist will load the embryos into a fine, soft catheter for the transfer specialist to place through the vagina and cervix and into the womb. The embryo(s) will be injected into a tiny drop of culture medium and the catheter will be removed and checked under the microscope to ensure they have been successfully transferred. The process should take about fifteen minutes.

After embryo transfer, you’ll need to wait for around 12-14 days to find out if your IVF treatment has been successful. This period, often referred to as ‘The Two Week Wait’, can be challenging and it can seem like it takes forever to pass – remember that we’re here to help and support you.

During the period after embryo transfer, it is important that you take the hormone progesterone, this helps prepare the lining on the womb for the implanting embryo. It is important that the progesterone is taken until your first pregnancy test.

We know the two-week wait is really tough because, of course, you’re anxious to learn the result of your treatment. Try to stay positive, and know that you’ve done everything you can. If it helps, you can use our Bulletin Board to speak to other women at the same stage of their IVF treatment - there is a section called the two week waiting room. Remember - you are not alone. We understand that the ‘two week wait’ can be an extremely anxious time, and we are here to support you.

You can take a home pregnancy test around two weeks after your embryo transfer. If your test is positive, you’ll then be called into the clinic for an ultrasound scan to check for a heartbeat. Throughout this stage, we’ll be here to support you.

Your pregnancy test is usually taken 14 - 16 days after embryo transfer and indicates whether or not your embryo has implanted. It may sometimes be necessary to repeat this test, but we’ll advise you on what is needed.

If your test is positive, we’ll invite you to come into the clinic 2 to 4 weeks later for an ultrasound scan to check for a heartbeat to show an ongoing pregnancy. Once this is confirmed, we’ll discharge you into the care of your GP who will arrange your antenatal care.

If your pregnancy test is negative or we don't find an ongoing pregnancy during your scan we know you’ll feel upset. Support is always available to you - you may find comfort in speaking with a specialist fertility counsellor, who can help you to understand and process the emotions you may be feeling. When you feel ready, we'll book you a follow up appointment with your consultant to discuss your next steps.

How long does IVF treatment take?

Whilst individual cases can vary, depending on the issues that are affecting fertility, it is typical for IVF to take approximately 7 weeks from when you take your first drug, until your pregnancy test.

Who can IVF help?

Getting pregnant is often more difficult than people think, especially as we get older. It’s helpful to be aware of the fertility issues that people can have when they are trying to conceive and how IVF works to address these problems. These can include:

  • Blocked or damaged fallopian tubes
  • Endometriosis
  • Unexplained fertility issues
  • Difficulty with ovulation
  • PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
  • Women who are older with a lower ovarian reserve
  • Men with low sperm counts

IVF FAQs

We know you’ll have a lot of questions about the IVF process. You can always get in touch with the Care team if you want to talk in more detail, but here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about IVF treatment.

According to the HFEA, birth rates from IVF in the UK have steadily increased over time with the average birth rate per embryo transferred standing at 24% in 2018, compared with just 7% in 1991.

In 2019, the years of study in HFEA Statistical release published in 2021, they found:

  • Birth rates for patients under 35 were 32% per embryo transferred
  • Birth rates for patients aged 35-37 were 25% 
  • Birth rates for patients aged 38-39 were 19%
  • For women 43+ birth rates were below 5% 

Of course, the likelihood of success with IVF varies person to person as everyone’s needs are individual. One thing you can be sure of is that our teams at Care Fertility will do everything we can to give your best chance of having a baby. You can find out more about IVF success rates at Care here.

As with any medical procedure, there is an element of risk with IVF. These risks include:

  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (when ovaries become swollen and painful)
  • Stress
  • Egg-retrieval procedure complications
  • Multiple births (the likelihood of having twins is higher with IVF)

At Care the health and comfort of our patients is of the utmost importance to us. We do everything we can to minimise risk during IVF, and we offer support throughout your fertility journey.

Patients undergoing IVF are required to take a few different medications throughout the treatment process; these drugs are associated with some potential side effects. However, for most, the chances of starting a family through IVF far outweigh the possible side effects. Some possible side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Mild bloating and/or cramping
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Mood swings

For more detailed information on costs at Care Fertility, read our guide to IVF costs where you can find fee schedules for our different clinics, or read understanding IVF costs for more in-depth information.

Your treatment plan and associated costs will be discussed at your consultation – you can book your consultation with one of our doctors here.

The first successful IVF procedure was carried out in 1978. Professor Simon Fishel, who founded Care Fertility, was part of the UK team who pioneered IVF. Since then over 5 million babies have been born worldwide thanks to IVF.

IVF science has advanced very rapidly in recent years and our teams at Care Fertility have been at the forefront of these developments, helping to pioneer ever more effective treatments. We are very proud to know that because of our work, there are more than 60,000 Care babies in the world today.

Are there any potential risks associated with IVF?

As with any medical procedure, there is an element of risk with IVF. These risks include:

  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (when ovaries become swollen and painful)
  • Stress
  • Egg-retrieval procedure complications
  • Multiple births (the likelihood of having twins is higher with IVF)

At Care the health and comfort of our patients is of the utmost importance to us. We do everything we can to minimise risk during IVF, and we offer support throughout your fertility journey. 

Potential side effects of IVF


Patients undergoing IVF are required to take a few different medications throughout the treatment process; these drugs are associated with some potential side effects. However, for most, the chances of starting a family through IVF far outweigh the possible side effects. Some possible side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Mild bloating and/or cramping
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Mood swings

Start your IVF journey with Care

Arranging a consultation is simple; we offer virtual and in-person consultations.

You can book your consultation and pre-treatment tests below.

Or if you’d like to talk to someone at Care about your options, it's straightforward to get started, call us on 0800 564 2270.