Specific steps of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle carry risks, including:
- Multiple births. IVF increases the risk of multiple births if more than one embryo is implanted in your uterus. A pregnancy with multiple fetuses carries a higher risk of early labor and low birth weight than pregnancy with a single fetus does.
- Premature delivery and low birth weight. Research suggests that use of IVF slightly increases the risk that a baby will be born early or with a low birth weight.
Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Use of injectable fertility drugs, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), to induce ovulation can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in which your ovaries become swollen and painful.
Signs and symptoms typically last a week and include mild abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you become pregnant, however, your symptoms might last several weeks. Rarely, it's possible to develop a more-severe form of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome that can also cause rapid weight gain and shortness of breath.
- Miscarriage. The rate of miscarriage for women who conceive using IVF with fresh embryos is similar to that of women who conceive naturally — about 15 to 25 percent — but the rate increases with maternal age. Use of frozen embryos during IVF, however, may slightly increase the risk of miscarriage.
- Egg-retrieval procedure complications. Use of an aspirating needle to collect eggs could possibly cause bleeding, infection or damage to the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel. Risks are also associated with general anesthesia, if used.
- Ectopic pregnancy. About 2 to 5 percent of women who use IVF will have an ectopic pregnancy — when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. The fertilized egg can't survive outside the uterus, and there's no way to continue the pregnancy.
- Birth defects. The age of the mother is the primary risk factor in the development of birth defects, no matter how the child is conceived. More research is needed to determine whether babies conceived using IVF might be at increased risk of certain birth defects. Some experts believe that the use of IVF does not increase the risk of having a baby with birth defects.
- Ovarian cancer. Although some early studies suggested there may be a link between certain medications used to stimulate egg growth and the development of a specific type of ovarian tumor, more recent studies do not support these findings.
- Stress. Use of IVF can be financially, physically and emotionally draining. Support from counselors, family and friends can help you and your partner through the ups and downs of infertility treatment.