Increase the chance of a healthy pregnancy with IVF

In vitro fertilization can increase the chances that a couple conceives.

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in eight American couples struggle with infertility, and many of them will turn to a range of fertility treatments to help them build their family. One popular approach is in vitro fertilization (IVF), which accounts for an estimated 4 million births in the U.S. annually and has proven to be an effective option for the right candidate.

“By definition, in vitro fertilization refers to the fertilization of an egg by a sperm outside of the body,” said Susan Wolf, MD, reproductive endocrinologist at Hasbrouck Heights-based University Reproductive Associates (URA). “Normally every month, a woman recruits a whole cohort (group) of eggs, and the one most responsive to hormones from the brain gets ovulated while the rest get wasted. Through IVF, we simply retrieve some of the other eggs in that cohort.”

She noted that this process in no way causes women to go into early menopause, a common misconception. “We’re simply manipulating a woman’s natural menstrual cycle so that we can get more eggs in one month to increase the chances of a pregnancy.”

From Dr. Wolf’s experience, IVF can be an optimal approach in many circumstances. “For example, it can be a good option for women with blocked fallopian tubes,  for couples in which the male partner has a very low sperm count, or for patients who have unexplained infertility and have tried other methods and failed,” she said. “In addition, for a woman with certain medical conditions, IVF can enhance her chances of having a healthy pregnancy.”

According to Dr. Wolf, women undergoing IVF begin the process with a several-weeks-long suppression phase, during which their ovaries are quieted to avoid a single egg from developing. “We then put them on 10-14 days of injections of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH, the same hormone emitted by the brain each month), with the goal of developing as many eggs as possible,” she said. When the eggs mature, the eggs are extracted from the follicles and inseminated with sperm in the lab; the best quality embryo will be transferred to her uterus several days later, at the time when it would have been released from her fallopian tubes into her uterus naturally.

In vitro fertilization refers to the fertilization of an egg by a sperm outside of the body.

Increasing the Chances of Success

As part of the IVF process, Dr. Wolf said that several measures can be taken to increase the chances of a healthy and successful pregnancy.

“We start with a series of prenatal tests to ensure that the patient is as healthy as she can be,” Dr. Wolf said. Among other things, “We screen for infectious diseases, liver disease, anemia, do tests to see if they are carriers of various genetic diseases, and ensure that they have all of their vaccines. If both partners test positive for the same genetic disease, it can increase the baby’s risk of inheriting that disease. To avoid that, we have the option of screening embryos to prevent parents from passing genetic diseases on to their children.

“As part of their preparation for IVF, we also assess patients for chronic medical issues such as diabetes, check their uterine cavity, remove any fibroids or polyps that can jeopardize the implantation of an embryo or increase the risk of pre-term labor,” Dr. Wolf said. “We’ll additionally address anatomical problems that can reduce the success of IVF, such as the presence of swollen fallopian tubes.

“Finally, because one-third of embryos produced by women under 30 are abnormal and that number only increases as women age, the process of pre-implantation genetic testing can help ensure that embryos have the right number of chromosomes and thereby identify genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome and others,” Dr. Wolf said. “Among transferred embryos that have been genetically tested, implantation rates are about 60%, and if an embryo tested normally but doesn’t implant, there’s other testing we can do. The older a woman is, the more beneficial the pre-implantation testing, so we encourage this option.”

Providing Care and Compassion

“Overall, we understand that fertility treatments like IVF can be overwhelming and emotional for patients, so we take a very individualized approach to their treatment and provide the utmost care and compassion,” Dr. Wolf said. “Each patient is assigned a nurse she can ask questions of, our IVF coordinators are a great resource for patients, and our physicians work collaboratively on each patient’s case and are always here to answer questions and help inform and educate patients so that they can be active participants in the process.”

As for Dr. Wolf’s favorite part of her job? “I love a positive pregnancy test!” she said.

Dr. Wolf encourages couples struggling with infertility not to give up. “Achieving a successful pregnancy isn’t always a straight path, but there are many options,” she said. “The most important thing is to stay positive, keep an open mind and know that the URA team is here to help.”

For More Information

With locations in Hasbrouck Heights, Hoboken and Wayne, University Reproductive Associates has been helping patients complete their journey to a joyful pregnancy for over three decades. For more information, call 201-288-6330 or visit uranj.com.

 — By Susan Bloom