Pregnancy does not come easily for everyone. As a woman ages, the ability to become pregnant becomes more difficult. But if you have been ambivalent about trying to get pregnant via In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), a new study shows that you shouldn’t lose hope.
The new study, published in the Jan. 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at IVF success in a different way. Traditionally, IVF success is reported as the number of pregnancies per cycle of IVF treatment, but that doesn’t let couples know the exact odds of having a pregnancy that ends up with a healthy baby. “IVF is a mainstay of the treatment of infertility, and it can overcome most causes of infertility for those under 40,” said study senior author Dr. Alan S. Penzias, surgical director of Boston IVF, and an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. And that information is exactly what people want to know, Penzias said.
The study found that women under 35 who undergo six cycles of in vitro fertilization have up to an 86 percent chance of giving birth. For women over 40, the odds are less than 50 percent — in some cases, significantly less. “Fertility is a function of age,” Penzias said. “It starts to decline at age 27, and the most pronounced decline is above age 40.”
Penzias and his colleagues followed more than 6,000 women undergoing IVF at a large center. Almost 15,000 cycles of IVF were completed. A cycle is the implantation of one or more eggs. Penzias said for this study, an average of 2.3 eggs were transferred for the first cycle and 2.8 for the sixth. The overall live-birth rate after six cycles of IVF was between 51 percent and 72 percent. For women under 35, the rate was 65 percent to 86 percent. The rates differed, because not all women returned for all six cycles, the researchers said. Overall, about 70 percent of the women had one baby, and less than 30 percent had twins. Fewer than 2 percent had triplets, according to the study.
“Unfortunately, there’s no test that shows when fertility starts to decline,” said Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director for the New York University Langone Medical Center’s fertility clinic, who added that this study could serve as a reminder to women to “be really thoughtful about the decisions you make about the reproductive process. Don’t expect to be able to get pregnant at any time. You don’t have to be pessimistic, but the older the patient, the lower the chance of success, unless a couple is willing to consider donor eggs. It’s not a surprise to know that if you do more than one IVF cycle, you have a better chance of having a baby, but this study gives an indication of what one can expect if one is going to do IVF and try it multiple times,” said Grifo, who added that the bottom line is, “that for any one woman, each cycle is either 100 percent or zero percent.”