If you’ve been considering undergoing the In Vitro Fertilization egg retrieval process, or are scheduled to do so sometime soon, you may have a lot of questions about the process. Egg retrieval can seem scary because it is a slightly invasive procedure, but knowing what happens and how egg collection works can make the process less intimidating.
These answers to commonly asked questions about egg retrieval can help prepare you for this big step in becoming pregnant with the help of IVF.
How does egg retrieval work?
While egg harvesting is a fairly quick procedure, there are actually about two weeks of prep work involved before a fertility specialist collects the eggs. Prior to egg retrieval, your healthcare provider will prescribe you synthetic hormones that help stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs at one time. These fertility drugs — injectables called follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone — must be taken on schedule. Some time between eight days and two weeks after starting these hormones, a doctor will provide you with a prescription for human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that helps the eggs mature in preparation for collection.
The timing for egg retrieval is important because the eggs must be collected before they are released from the ovaries. Your fertility specialist will determine the best time for collecting the eggs based on either a blood test or a vaginal ultrasound that shows their size. In most cases, egg retrieval is scheduled for a maximum of 36 hours after injecting HCG.
Whenever your eggs are ready for harvest, you’ll visit your fertility doctor or clinic for the egg retrieval procedure. During the process, you’ll be sedated or put under anesthesia to reduce any pain associated with collection. From there, a transvaginal ultrasound probe will be inserted into your vagina, so that your doctor can determine the exact location of your follicles. A needle attached to this ultrasound wand allows the doctor to precisely puncture each follicle, and gently suction out each egg and the fluid within the follicle. From there, they are stored until they are ready to be fertilized with sperm.
How invasive is the egg retrieval process?
In prior decades, IVF technology made egg retrieval a more difficult process simply because it was harder for doctors to determine the exact location of the follicles. Modern egg harvesting techniques use a transvaginal ultrasound that allows fertility specialists to see exactly where the follicle and eggs are, making the procedure easier and faster. Modern techniques also reduce any pain associated with egg retrieval, allowing you to recover more quickly and with less irritation and discomfort.
How long does the egg retrieval process take?
If you count the necessary preparation time for egg retrieval, the entire process takes around two weeks. That’s because it’s necessary to use hormones for several days prior to the egg collection to prepare and mature the eggs.
But, on average, the actual egg retrieval process only takes about 15 minutes. In most cases, preparing you for the procedure at the doctor’s office or clinic and recovering afterwards usually take longer than the actual amount of time spent collecting the eggs.
How should I prepare for IVF egg retrieval?
The most important way to get ready for an egg retrieval is to ensure that you are taking all hormones and medications as prescribed. These fertility drugs increase the chances of success for your egg collection. Right before the egg retrieval, your doctor may ask you to avoid eating or drinking for 10 to 12 hours before the procedure if you are going to be under anesthesia.
At the fertility clinic or doctor’s office where you are having the egg retrieval performed, you will be asked to dress in a hospital gown, and may also have an IV started so that you can receive pain medications.
Does egg retrieval hurt?
Some women are worried that the egg retrieval process will be painful. It’s difficult to determine the level of discomfort you may feel during and after the process for a variety of reasons (such as your personal pain tolerance and the kind of anesthetic used during the procedure), but many women report some slight discomfort. Based on your personal experiences with pain, as well as any anxiety you have about the procedure, a doctor may offer three options for performing the retrieval:
- Local anesthetic — This kind of anesthesia allows you to be awake during the process, but is used to numb the area above the ovaries prior to the procedure. Local anesthetic is often considered because it is less expensive than other forms of anesthesia, and there is virtually no wake up/recovery time associated with other medications used to sedate patients.
- Conscious sedation — Some fertility clinics prefer to use conscious sedation, which uses a sedative to help you relax and an anesthetic to numb and block pain. One benefit to conscious sedation is that recovery time is faster than general anesthetic, which allows you to head home and rest more quickly following the procedure. Another perk is that conscious sedation allows you to be awake and a part of the procedure without the anxiety and pain related to egg retrieval.
- General anesthetic — Your fertility clinic may consider using general anesthetic so that you don’t feel pain during the retrieval. This kind of anesthesia puts you to sleep, and often makes you feel groggy and confused upon waking. While this form of pain relief is very safe, some clinics choose not to use general anesthetics due to side effects the associated with them, such as nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. In most cases, general anesthesia is the most expensive form of operating room pain relief.
While recovering from the egg retrieval, you may feel some discomfort, such as soreness or cramps. Many doctors will recommend acetaminophen or an over-the-counter painkiller for any aches or soreness, though some fertility clinics will prescribe stronger medications if necessary. In most cases, any pain or soreness associated with egg retrieval peaks the first day after the procedure, and disappears by three to four days later.
Can I go back to work after egg retrieval? How long does recovery take?
Most women who undergo egg retrieval schedule the remainder of the day off work because the process is somewhat invasive and can cause some discomfort. Many fertility specialists and clinics recommend that you go home and rest following the procedure, and advise you to have a spouse, trusted friend, or family member drive you home afterwards, especially if anesthesia has been used.
Recovery following egg retrieval depends on your personal pain tolerance and how your body reacts to the procedure. Many women feel some kinds of discomfort, such as cramping, bloating, and body aches for up to three or four days after retrieval.
Remember — the overall IVF process takes a lot of energy and can have some uncomfortable side effects on your body. Treat yourself to rest and relaxation following major IVF procedures, such as egg retrieval, so that you are comfortable and ready for the next big step.
How many eggs can be retrieved at one time?
The number of eggs your fertility doctor collects at one time depends on several factors, including:
- Your age — Many fertility specialists recommend retrieving a higher number of eggs at one time based on age. Egg quality for older women is often reduced, and more eggs gives them a chance to determine healthier eggs with the best chances of fertilization.
- Your hormone levels — How many eggs your body has matured and prepared for harvesting depends on your personal hormone levels. Your doctor will be able to determine your hormone levels through blood work, and can determine from there how many eggs they should collect at one time.
According to research from the University of Birmingham in England, the optimal number of eggs to collect for IVF is 15. This amount is a strong balance between retrieving too few eggs and requiring multiple retrievals, and harvesting too many eggs, which can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
With this condition, the ovaries produce too many eggs, causing swelling, abdominal pain, and other discomforts. In addition, researchers believe that collecting too many eggs at one time can actually decrease the chances of pregnancy, though they are unsure exactly why.
After the egg retrieval process, your doctor will be able to tell you how many eggs were collected. From there, normally within 24 hours, the fertility clinic or specialist will contact you with information about the number of eggs they were able to freeze or fertilize.
What happens after the egg retrieval?
Following the harvest of your eggs, you’ll be sent home to recover. Your fertility specialist may prescribe you several medications for the recovery period, usually including an antibiotic that prevent any potential infection and steroids to reduce inflammation. You may also be given additional hormones that can help prepare the lining of your uterus for the next stages of IVF if you are planning to have an embryo transfer.