What Is In Vitro Fertilization?

Find Out How IVF Affects the Rate of Pregnancy Problems Like Miscarriage

IVF treatment
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In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a fertility treatment in which eggs are removed from the woman's body and fertilized with sperm in the lab. The resulting embryos are then returned to her uterus in the hopes of fostering a pregnancy.

What Is In Vitro Fertilization?

IVF is the most common type of assisted reproductive technology (ART). It is a set of procedures used to help a woman become pregnant.

A typical IVF cycle takes about two weeks. After a woman's ovaries are stimulated with fertility hormones, one or more eggs are removed from her ovarian follicles. The eggs are then fertilized with sperm in vitro ("in glass"). The resulting embryos are then transferred to the woman's uterus where they may implant and produce a pregnancy.

Some embryos may be frozen for later attempts.

How Effective Is IVF?

The first "test-tube baby" was born in 1978. Since then, IVF and other ARTs have produced more than 4 million pregnancies around the world.

According to recent statistics, of the ART procedures that get to the transfer stage:

  • 47 percent result in pregnancy
  • 38 percent result in a baby

Between 1 and 2 percent of babies born in the U.S. are conceived with IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies.

In Vitro Fertilization and Miscarriage Risk

Many women worry about the risk of miscarriage with IVF.

There's comforting news here. The miscarriage rate is actually similar for women who get pregnant naturally and for those who use IVF with fresh (not frozen embryos).

However, the miscarriage rate for IVF does appear to increase in older women and with the use of frozen embryos.

In all pregnancies, miscarriages are most common very early in the pregnancy.

Studies show that in IVF, at least one embryo is lost very early in:

  • 25 percent of singleton pregnancies
  • 35 percent of twin pregnancies
  • 55 percent of triplet pregnancies

Other Pregnancy Outcomes

IVF has a greater risk of other adverse pregnancy outcomes:

There's also a greater than normal chance of having identical twins with IVF.

Long-term studies of babies conceived by IVF generally show normal health in adulthood. 

IVF for Recurrent Pregnancy Loss

In vitro fertilization is sometimes used in women with multiple pregnancy losses.

Some women choose to undergo IVF with donor eggs because of repeated pregnancy losses or ovarian failure.

Some practitioners use IVF combined with preimplantation genetic testing as a treatment for recurrent miscarriages. This use is generally accepted among the medical community when the parents are carriers of a genetic abnormality that may cause recurrent miscarriages. However, the use of preimplantation genetic testing with IVF for genetically normal parents who are experiencing recurrent miscarriages is controversial.

Also Known As: Test-tube fertilization, assisted reproductive technologies


In vitro fertilization. UpToDate. January 21, 2016.

Pregnancy outcome after assisted reproductive technology. UpToDate. September 9, 2015.

In vitro fertilization (IVF). Mayo Clinic. June 27, 2013.