The IVF Process: Egg Retrieval

If you and your partner are planning on undergoing IVF treatment, then you are probably quite excited and hopeful about the results. One of the most important steps in the IVF procedure is the egg retrieval process.

In order to produce viable embryos for implantation, a number of ripe and mature eggs need to be retrieved from a woman's ovaries. Only then can the IVF procedure continue successfully. Here are some of the basics about the egg retrieval process involved in IVF treatment.

What is Egg Retrieval?

Egg retrieval is the process whereby a woman's eggs are removed from her ovaries. These eggs are later mixed with a man's sperm in order to facilitate fertilization. In order for egg retrieval to occur, a woman must first have follicle production stimulated by particular hormones.

Once a number of follicles (potential eggs) are produced, fertility specialists can then remove these eggs from the ovaries in order to attempt fertilization. If fertilization is successful, the embryos will be placed back in to the woman's uterus.

What are Egg Follicles?

Egg follicles are fluid-filled sacs that are located inside both of a woman’s ovaries. A woman is born with millions of these eggs follicles, each of which contains an immature egg at its center.

Each month, thanks to certain hormones, multiple follicles will begin to develop. The one follicle that is the strongest will attract most of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland, causing it to break open and release an egg while the remain follicles die off. This is ovulation.


Stimulating Follicular Development

In order for IVF to be most effective, more than just one mature egg needs to be retrieved. Your reproductive endocrinologist will attempt to remove all viable follicles that are present in your ovaries, so that multiple eggs can be fertilized. This means that a woman needs to have her follicles stimulated artificially.

There are special medications that you will be required to take in order to help stimulate the development of your follicles. These medications can include:

  • Clomid
  • FSH
  • hMG

These medications may be given orally or via subcutaneous injections for approximately ten days or so.


Monitoring Follicular Development

Timing is extremely important when it comes to the IVF retrieval process. If your follicles develop too much, then the egg inside will become too mature for efficient fertilization. This can seriously affect the IVF process. For this reason, your ovaries will be monitored in order to keep an eye on your follicular development. This is typically done through ultrasound. When your follicles reach just the right maturity, egg retrieval can begin.

Retrieving the Eggs

The egg retrieval process is a relatively simple one. It typically takes place at your local fertility clinic or in a hospital affiliated with your clinic. Follicles from both your left and right ovary will be removed in a process known as follicular aspiration. Follicular aspiration involves inserting a hollow needle through the top of the vagina and into the ovaries. This needle is then used to suction out any follicles that may be present in the ovaries.

In order to guide the needle into the appropriate area of the ovary, you will be given a transvaginal ultrasound. This will allow your health care provider to insert the needle into your ovary at just the right place. This will be performed under anesthesic, so you shouldn’t feel any pain.

Once the needle is in the proper position, your health care provider will use it to aspirate any follicles inside of the ovary. These follicles will be immediately examined under a microscope to ensure the presence of a viable egg. The follicles will then be placed in an incubator.

Depending upon your age and the effect of your fertility medications, you may have between 5 and 20 eggs removed during the egg retrieval process. The entire process typically takes between 15 and 30 minutes.

How Will You Feel After the Egg Retrieval?

After the egg retrieval process you may feel a little tender in your abdomen. You will also feel fatigued as a result of the anesthetic. After two hours of monitoring at your clinic, you will be allowed to go home. You may notice some light vaginal spotting that is red or brown in color. This is normal, though, and nothing to worry about. You will also receive some antibiotics from your health care provide that will help to prevent any infection.

After Egg Retrieval: Your Next Step

After the egg retrieval, all viable eggs will be mixed with a sperm sample provided by your partner or sperm donor. These eggs will then be cultured overnight until they can be checked for fertilization. If fertilization occurs, the next stage of IVF treatment can begin, which is  embryo transfer.

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