Being able to have a baby via IVF, or in vitro fertilization, is based on so many factors — enough to make your head spin. However, as it relates to the female side of the equation, two factors that have the biggest impact on whether or not IVF will be successful for you come down to your eggs — specifically, the number of eggs retrieved and the quality of those eggs.
How Does the Number of Eggs Retrieved Impact IVF Success?
The success rate of IVF is based on your chances of having a baby after all of the good embryos from one egg retrieval cycle are transferred to your uterus. It's normal to need more than one cycle, and the good news is that your chances of success go up with each cycle. For example, if your chances of having a baby after one cycle are predicted to be 40%, they could increase to 60% with two cycles, and so on.
While your age and general health can affect egg quality, the number of eggs retrieved during an IVF cycle also matters greatly — here’s why.
For a while, clinicians thought the ideal number of eggs to get during IVF was between 6 to 15. A major reason for this was that, in the past, fresh embryo transfers were the standard of care. Over-stimulating the patient to retrieve more than 15 eggs was thought to impact the patient’s endometrial receptivity post-egg retrieval, affecting implantation rates.
Today, while there is still a small decline in success rates for fresh embryo transfers when a lot of eggs are retrieved, embryo culture and cryopreservation techniques have improved so much over the past decade that patients experience greater success with frozen embryo transfers than they could before. Because of this, clinicians are now able to safely stimulate a patient to produce the optimal number of eggs for the patient without worrying about a 15-egg limit.
In fact, it turns out that retrieving as many eggs as possible — without risking ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), of course — may lead to a higher chance of having a baby. Fertility technology company, Alife, recently researched to confirm this, using data from SART from 402,411 egg retrieval cycles from 2014 to 2019.
Here's what they found: Up to around 16-20 eggs, the success rate for IVF goes up rapidly. After that, it still improves, but at a slower pace. Each additional egg retrieved improves your chances of success. And it looks like there may not be a limit to how many eggs you can retrieve without affecting quality.
Here's a handy-dandy chart to help you visualize what that means:
The evidence is clear — to increase your overall chance of success with IVF, you should prioritize retrieving as many eggs as you (safely) can. Luckily, there are new technologies being invented every day to help your fertility doctor do just this.
How New Technology May Help Your Doctor Retrieve More Eggs
Technology is constantly advancing to help improve IVF outcomes for families who have struggled with infertility for so long. AI or artificial intelligence is one of the most up-and-coming forms of technology showing promise for many families.
Hard stop – first, let's explain what we mean by AI. AI is an artificial system (hence, "artificial intelligence”) that has been trained to perform specific tasks using algorithms and machine learning techniques (so, not a robotic-looking sentient being with free will and emotions like we sometimes see in the movies). AI can't think, feel, or make decisions as a human does, but it can process large amounts of data and make predictions based on that data.
Here's a great example of how AI is used in IVF – Alife, a fertility tech company, has a new AI software that helps your doctor get the most mature eggs possible during your IVF cycle. The software looks at your stats, like your age and BMI, then compares it to other patients in their database of 40K+ cycles to predict the best medication dosing for you and to determine the best times for your eggs to mature.
Early studies show promising results:
The study found that if the software was used, doctors may get an average of 1.5 more mature eggs, 1.2 more fertilized eggs, and 0.6 more usable embryos for patients needing a different FSH dose. And for patients who couldn't get better results with a different FSH dose, the software showed that less FSH could be required, saving up to $2,100 on average.
In short, with AI your doctor may be able to retrieve more eggs during an IVF cycle, improving your overall chance of success.
Why Does IVF Need New Technology?
Since the first baby conceived through IVF was born in 1978, more than 8 million people globally have been born using the technology. IVF success rates have improved drastically since it was first introduced, but still, only about a third of patients have a successful live birth.
While there have been many amazing advancements in the field, new technologies to optimize clinical care and improve clinic operations can help push the field forward to help more patients achieve successful outcomes. Alife's goal is to make IVF better and more affordable for everyone and to make it so more people can access this type of medicine as the need continues to grow.
Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo is a freelance writer, infertility and women’s rights advocate, former stand-up comic, author of the blog, “The 2 Week Wait,” and proud IVF Mom. Her articles have been featured in Time magazine, Huffington Post, and ScaryMommy. She has been interviewed on news outlets such as CNN, NPR, and BBC, where she has demonstrated her ability to make even reproductive issues fun and educational. You can follow her "infertility humor" on Instagram at @jennjaypal.