For women who are struggling with infertility, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be both a blessing and a curse. While IVF has helped many women have successful pregnancies, the multitude of medications and injections required for IVF can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining. That is why so-called “Natural Cycle IVF” is gaining favor among many women and their fertility specialists.
What is natural cycle IVF?
The basic concept of natural cycle IVF is that it relies on a woman’s natural menstrual cycle – without fertility medications – from which to harvest a single egg per cycle. In comparison, traditional IVF requires fertility medications that cause multiple eggs to be produced in a given cycle to increase the chances of creating a healthy embryo. Once the egg or eggs are retrieved, both natural cycle and traditional IVF then follow with laboratory fertilization and embryo transfer.
Is natural cycle IVF a good choice for you?
Natural cycle IVF is recommended for women who need fertility treatments but who cannot tolerate fertility medications, do not respond well to the medications, and/or have had breast or ovarian cancer. It also appeals to women who have ethical objections to embryo reduction or who want a more holistic, natural approach to overcoming infertility. Plus, it has the added advantage of being less expensive, requires fewer uncomfortable procedures, and resulting in fewer multiple births.
However, it may not be for everyone. Women who have irregular cycles will find it difficult or impossible to use this method. Additionally, most practitioners require women to be 35 or under, to have normal FSH and other hormone levels, and to have no other medical issues that may interfere.
Natural cycle IVF disadvantages
For all of the benefits of natural cycle IVF, it has one distinct disadvantage: the fact that the exact timing of ovulation is difficult to predict. Sometimes a woman ovulates too soon, before the egg from that cycle can be collected. Therefore, it’s not as reliable as traditional IVF for harvesting eggs. However, once the egg is harvested, the success rates are similar to those for traditional IVF. In some cases, doctors recommend the option of a modified form of natural cycle IVF, in which a woman is given medication to prevent premature ovulation, and then an ovulation-inducing injection when the egg is fully mature. The egg is then harvested within the next 36 hours.
Nevertheless, natural cycle IVF remains somewhat controversial within the fertility community because of the uncertainty of egg retrieval. Some fertility specialists have decided not to offer natural cycle IVF, with the reasoning that the egg retrieval and the quality of the resulting embryo is not a sure thing, and that a woman may have to go through more embryo transfer procedures until one finally develops successfully. Why not spare a woman the pain of waiting on one egg at a time, these doctors say, rather than optimizing her chances by trying several at once? Additionally, some fertility centers are unhappy about the effect it might have on their fertility statistics: Given that natural cycle IVF results in lower per-cycle pregnancy rates, it can throw off the numbers that women use to judge whether or not they are going to use that particular center.
If you are having problems getting pregnant, and you are considering IVF, you may ask your fertility specialist if he or she will do natural cycle IVF and if you are a good candidate for it. Of course, for best results with any form of IVF, it helps to keep yourself healthy, stay patient, and keep an open mind. If it turns out that natural cycle IVF doesn’t work for you, your doctor may choose to move you to a more traditional IVF regimen. With luck, you will have a successful pregnancy within a few cycles.