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How Long Does the IVF Process Take? The Timeline From Start to Finish

An experienced fertility nurse breaks down the typical IVF timeline and answers common questions about the process.

August 22nd, 2023 | 12 min. read

By Christina Dias, RN, BSN

Navigating the complexities of IVF isn't easy, and the abundance of information you need to absorb might leave you feeling overwhelmed. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how long the IVF process takes and what you need to know - every step of the way.

In this article:

How long does the IVF process really take?

You’ve made the decision to seek the help of a fertility specialist – which is a huge step towards achieving your family-building goals. At this point, you are likely eager to get the process started, and may be wondering: how long will IVF treatment take from start to finish?

As Illume Fertility's Director of Nursing, with many years of fertility nursing experience, I'm here to break it all down for you and - hopefully - make it a little less intimidating.

Before we dive in, let's talk about some actionable steps you can take right now to prepare for fertility treatment. As any fertility patient will tell you, this stage of the process takes time - lots of communication, consultations, phone calls, and decisions happen well before you do your first injection.

While the IVF cycle itself only takes around 4 weeks, the full process (including your preconception health regimen and fertility testing) can take up to 4 months, from your initial consultation to when you have your first beta hCG test to see if you’re pregnant. 

Preparing for IVF Treatment

To give you the absolute best chance at a successful IVF cycle and healthy pregnancy, we begin by performing a variety of tests that offer a full picture of your current fertility and overall health. Fertility treatment can begin only after initial fertility testing is completed.

This will involve a medical evaluation that looks at everything from any potential genetic issues to elevated thyroid or blood sugar levels. Certain medical conditions may warrant lifestyle modifications that will make it easier for you to conceive, which can add to your timeline, but make all the difference. 

Fertility testing typically includes: 

Did you know? Male fertility issues account for up to 40% of infertility cases! That's why evaluating the quantity and quality of sperm is essential. As sperm is produced every 64 days, focusing on preconception health is important for a male partner as well. 

5 Things to Do Before Starting IVF

  1. Schedule your initial consultation and learn more from your doctor
  2. Meet with a nutritionist to give your body the very best chance at success
  3. Meet with a counselor who can help prepare you for the road ahead
  4. Connect with other fertility patients through our virtual support groups, led by Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Lisa Rosenthal (who also offers free, one-on-one support) 
  5. Download our 90-Day Preconception Checklist to stay on track

Why Preconception Health is Essential

To put it simply: a healthy body has the best chance of success.

Even small changes to nutrition and lifestyle in the period leading up to IVF can increase your odds of a healthy pregnancy. For this reason, the ideal time to start focusing on your preconception wellness is around three months before the start of an IVF cycle. We have developed an easy-to-reference 90-Day Preconception Checklist for this very purpose!

During this time, you should begin your physician-approved preconception health regimen, which will likely include taking prenatal vitamins, increasing your water intake, improving your sleep hygiene, and eating a balanced and nutritious diet.

Limiting alcohol and caffeine, stopping smoking, and incorporating low-impact exercise will also prepare your body for the rigors of fertility treatment and pregnancy.

Don't forget: Now is also the perfect time to identify your emotional support network as well as inquire about your insurance benefits. Your fertility doctor will also begin testing you for various risk factors.

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The 4 Stages of an IVF Cycle

Once diagnostic testing is complete, your IVF cycle can finally begin!

You're likely feeling a lot of conflicting emotions right now, which is completely normal. Acknowledge all the hard work you've done to get to this point, and communicate any concerns to your team as you enter your treatment cycle. Here's what to expect:

Stage 1: Oral Contraceptives 

Although it may seem counterintuitive, IVF patients must take oral contraceptives (birth control) for 10-14 days prior to beginning their fertility medication protocol.

When taken before ovarian stimulation, studies have shown that oral contraceptives can increase the number of eggs available for retrieval, ensure follicles grow as a cohesive group, and support ovarian health throughout IVF.

Stage 2: Ovarian Stimulation 

After completing a course of oral contraceptives, you will begin injections of fertility medication for approximately 9-11 days. These medications consist of naturally occurring hormones that help develop and mature your follicles (eggs are contained within the follicles).

The number of follicles and their size determine how many mature eggs will be available for retrieval. During this time, you should plan to be in your fertility clinic's office approximately every other day for a transvaginal ultrasound and monitoring via blood work.

Stage 3: Egg Retrieval

Egg retrieval refers to a one-day procedure where the eggs are extracted from the ovarian follicles and then handed over to the IVF lab, where they will fertilize and divide. 

At Illume Fertility, we monitor the growth of your embryos in our own onsite lab. A specially-trained embryologist cares for each embryo, watching it divide and multiply for five days, at which point they transition from the "zygote" stage to the "blastocyst" stage.

Did you know? Research supports that transferring embryos into the uterus at the blastocyst stage yields better results than transferring them on Day 3 (when they're still in the less mature zygote stage).

Stage 4: Embryo Transfer

After being closely monitored in the IVF lab, an embryo will be transferred back to the uterus on Day 5. (Egg retrieval day is considered Day 0.) This is referred to as a "fresh" transfer. If you want to wait for any reason, your embryos can be safely cryopreserved until you're ready for a "frozen" embryo transfer.

Embryo transfer is also a one-day procedure that should take approximately 20 to 30 minutes. You will be awake for this painless procedure, and will not require any anesthesia.

Following this is a waiting period to see if the embryo implants in the uterus, which typically takes 9-10 days, depending on the maturity of the embryo at the time of transfer.

What might make my IVF cycle take longer?

You've worked so hard to get to this point, and any delays in the process can feel incredibly frustrating. If your IVF cycle was delayed or cancelled (or is taking longer than expected), it's understandable to want to know why this could have happened.

Here are the three most common reasons:

#1 Poor Ovarian Response

Sometimes the body doesn’t respond as expected to IVF medications, which can delay or cancel your IVF cycle. For example, there might be a delay or cancellation if a lower number of follicles develop in the ovaries than expected, meaning fewer eggs were produced.

#2 Suboptimal Hormone Levels

Sometimes hormone levels are not ideal for continuing an IVF cycle, and delaying can actually lead to better odds of success in your next cycle.

Although this can be difficult news to receive, remember that every cycle is diagnostic, as well as therapeutic. Your fertility doctor will gain important knowledge about your body and how it responds to medication throughout each cycle, increasing your chances of success for the next one.

Remember: A poor hormonal response from this round of IVF does not mean you'll have the same fate should you decide to continue with IVF treatments. Sometimes, it just takes a little time to figure out the right protocol for your body. 

Reason #3: Embryo Screening

Another reason your IVF cycle might take longer than expected is if you opt to have your embryos undergo genetic testing before transfer. This can add 4-5 weeks to the process. 

Preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) can offer the highest degree of certainty for a genetically healthy child, particularly when partners are known carriers or at higher risk for passing on genetic diseases. 

Whatever the reason, we understand that delays can be challenging and upsetting. Should there be a delay or cancellation, your doctor will carefully review your case and make necessary adjustments - providing support and information every step of the way.

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IVF Treatment FAQs

Have more questions about the IVF process? We've got answers! 

Do I need preauthorization for IVF?

The cost of IVF is an unfortunate roadblock for the majority of people seeking treatment. The good news? An increasing number of companies offer fertility benefits, and some states even have mandated fertility coverage. (If you don't have insurance, read our guide to paying for IVF with the help of other resources, like grants, scholarships, and loans.)

Many insurance companies also provide benefits for fertility testing and procedures, though coverage varies by state and employer. Depending on the type of insurance plan you have, your policy may require that you obtain referrals or authorizations.

Beyond a simple phone call to your insurance company, we suggest requesting a written predetermination letter that outlines your fertility benefits and clarifies any specific requirements that must be met for you to be covered.

This step might be necessary for both you and your partner if you carry individual insurance. To avoid delays, seek out this information as soon as IVF becomes a consideration. 

Knowing how stressful this process can be, Illume Fertility appoints you a designated Insurance & Billing Advocate to help communicate with your insurance company and understand your coverage. They will help determine your benefits, outline any out-of-pocket expenses, and review specific plan details to eliminate surprises along the way.

Why do I have to start IVF the month before my egg retrieval?

An IVF cycle corresponds with the length of a normal ovulation cycle, which is about a month long. Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from the ovary and "pushed" into the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized, or in the case of IVF - retrieved.

The goal of IVF is to prepare and stimulate the ovaries to produce many mature eggs for retrieval and ready your uterus for implantation. Ovarian preparation and stimulation occur at the start of and during the ovulation cycle.

How long does it take an embryo to implant after transfer?

Depending on the maturity of the embryo, it can take between 1-5 days after the transfer for the embryo to nestle into the uterine lining and successfully implant. 

How long after embryo transfer will I know if I’m pregnant?

Waiting to learn if your IVF cycle was a success can be the hardest part of treatment, and it's tempting to take at-home pregnancy tests! However, it's important to know that at-home tests simply won’t be reliable if taken too early, so stay strong during that "two-week wait."

To detect actual amounts of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone produced by the placenta after implantation, an in-office pregnancy blood test is performed around 9-10 days after embryo transfer

We encourage you to practice good self care, connect with others in the same boat, and reach out for support during this often challenging waiting period! 

Your IVF Experience

Remember that everyone's journey is unique.

Try not to compare your situation to anyone else's - even if they seem similar. What works for one IVF patient may not work for you. Be patient, stay connected to your team, reach out for support, and don't be afraid to ask questions. They're there to help!

We at Illume Fertility wish you all the luck on your path to parenthood, and hope this guide to the IVF process helps you feel as prepared as possible for the journey ahead.

Christina Dias, RN, BSN

Christina Dias, RN, BSN joined the team at Illume Fertility in 2004. She currently serves as our Director of Nursing, overseeing our clinical care teams. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Sacred Heart University.

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