Natural IVF: A tested and affordable option with fewer side effects

At a 50th birthday party last weekend for my friend Maggie, I noticed one of the guests, Kristin, receiving quiet congratulations. I quickly deduced she was newly pregnant: 6 weeks. I knew Kristin had been trying to conceive for at least a year, and I was naturally pleased and curious to learn about how she “got to baby” — or at least to pregnancy.

I went over and offered Kristin my own congratulations and we started chatting about her journey and swapping war stories. I was intrigued to learn she was successful with natural cycle IVF, a low-medication alternative to standard IVF. (Another alternative is called minimal stimulation IVF or Mini-IVGF  Mini-IVF uses Clomid, an oral medication that has been in use since the 1960s.) I did some quick investigation and learned that natural IVF has been around since the late 80’s early 90’s — but it’s not the first option offered by many clinics.

 Natural cycle IVF is similar to standard in vitro fertilization but doesn’t rely on expensive and painful follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) medications to stimulate the ovaries to make multiple eggs. In natural cycle IVF,  follicle development during a normal ovulatory cycle is tracked by blood work and ultrasound, and when the follicle is ready to release, it is retrieved and fertilized using conventional IVF procedures. Natural cycle eggs are typically considered to be of a higher quality than traditional IVF.  Like traditional IVF, not all eggs result in an embryo. But when an embryo is produced and transferred successfully to the uterus, the pregnancy success rates are similar to conventional IVF.

With a new generation of infertile women pursuing holistic health solutions, it’s little wonder that natural cycle IVF is attracting new clients and researchers. The University of Southern California (USC) is recruiting participants today to take a fresh look at how advances of the last 20 years may influence outcomes (no discount on treatment, but this is a way to help other women know if this is a better option in the future).

 This is a safer, less costly approach for IVF. It’s not for everyone, but according to several clinics it’s a good option for many women, including those with elevated FSH (lower ovarian reserves), failed conventional IVF cycles, tubal disease, or male factor issues.

 So why isn’t natural cycle IVF promoted more? Perhaps the main reason: it can statistically lower the overall success rate for a clinic, because clinic data on stimulated and unstimulated (natural) cycles are lumped together (although the CDC tracks each separately). Not surprisingly, clinics don’t want to skew their success rates, so natural IVF is not the go-to option for many clinics.

Infertility treatment is never fun, but it seems this method takes the “sting” — both physically and financially – out of a painful situation.

 Kristin? She got lucky. Worked on the first try. Congratulations to her!

 Meanwhile, we’d love to hear about your experiences au naturel IVF. We’ll keep an eye on the USC study and keep you posted on this perhaps overlooked and statistically disadvantaged approach to Getting 2 Baby.

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A few quick points from clinics specializing in the natural approach:

Advantages of Natural  / Minimal Stimulation IVF

  • Eliminates the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)
  • Significant cost savings: about half of most standard IVF procedures
  • No painful and expensive gonadotropin injections
  • Fewer office visits
  • Generally produces a higher quality egg
  • Produces one follicle, virtually eliminates risk of multiple pregnancies

Potential Problems

  • Cycle is cancelled, usually due to premature ovulation or LH surge.
  • Failure to retrieve the egg – in less than 10% of patients.
  • Failure to fertilize the egg – in less than 10% of patients.

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