The average success rate of IVF for a woman under 35 years of age is 40 percent. Given those odds, I wasn’t shocked when our first IVF embryo transfer failed. But after four failed transfers of five highly-graded embryos, I can’t help but feel completely discouraged and suspect of this entire process. Exactly how many IVF cycles does one need to undergo before she achieves success?
According to this 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., it’s way more than you might expect! Before you start thinking about throwing in the towel and quitting your IVF journey, read this important information below.
When to Give Up on IVF Treatment: What’s the Magic Number?
The U.K. based study, which analyzed over 250,000 in vitro fertilization attempts by more than 150,000 women for nearly a decade, revealed 3 key findings:
- Women abandon IVF too soon – typically after three or four unsuccessful attempts.
- If women continue with IVF they have a 69% chance of having a baby after nine IVF cycles.
- Moreover, the majority of women – 65.3% of patients in the study – achieved success after just six cycles of IVF, particularly if they were under the age of 40.
- On average, the process of success for IVF (i.e. six to nine cycles) will take a total of two years, which is similar to rates that couples conceiving naturally take in one year.
While doing six to nine IVF cycles over a period of two years may still seem outlandish to some, I have to admit that these findings made me feel exceptionally better. Particularly, because they also support the general trend that I’ve found among my friends whom have struggled with getting pregnant via IVF, which is namely: it takes a few fails before one “sticks.”
Indeed, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received during this journey was from a friend who is currently pregnant with her second IVF conceived baby after struggling with multiple failures for many years. Over a recent dinner with a group of friends she discreetly pulled me aside and whispered: “You will get pregnant, I’m sure of it. The secret is you just have to stick with it.”
Her calm assuredness was absolute magic to my ears. Suddenly, the question of our success was no longer “how?” but “when?”. It was everything I needed to hear.
Repeat Implantation Failure – An Outdated Definition
The medical definition of recurrent implantation failure is “failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after transfer of at least four good-quality embryos in a minimum of three fresh or frozen cycles in a woman under the age of 40 years.” Clinically, I fall into this dismal definition. Clinically, I’m part of the 10% of women who face what the definition calls a “frustrating and distressing” diagnosis. But something about that never felt right. When I referenced the term “recurrent implantation failure” to Dr. M., she rolled her eyes. “That’s an outdated and very conservative definition,” she explained. And according to the above study, she’s right. The LA Times summarizes:
“The conventional wisdom in assisted reproduction circles is that women who do not have a baby after three embryo transfers suffer “repeat implantation failure,” the study authors wrote. Also, doctors continue to be guided by an outdated study that said live birth rates decline after four IVF cycles. Together, these have prompted many women to abandon fertility treatment after three or four unsuccessful embryo transfers.”
While the diagnosis of “recurrent implantation failure” shouldn’t be discarded all together (believe me, it’s alive and well over here!), its rigid and somewhat outdated definition of “three to four cycles” shouldn’t discourage couples from moving forward with IVF treatment that exceeds its bounds.
Conclusion: How Many IVF Cycles Should You Try Before Stopping
The one factor that the study doesn’t analyze is cost – which to most people who undergo IVF is the number one deciding factor of moving forward with yet another cycle. The absence of a cost analysis solution renders these findings of “charging ahead” with up to nine transfers completely unrealistic for some and downright laughable to most. But as a couple who has decided to stay the course and embark on embryo transfer #5 in just a few weeks, I can’t help but feel emboldened by this study, which further supports my own inherent feelings to just keep going – despite the odds, despite the past failures, despite the pain and exhaustion. While I’m not sure exactly what our magic number will be before we finally decide to bow out of this racket, I do know with complete confidence that we aren’t there yet. Wish us luck on transfer number 5!