How Many Times Should You Try IVF Before Giving Up?
Because of the emotional, physical, and financial toll exacted by IVF, it is preferable that a couple undertake the process with the mindset that they will be in it for more than one attempt. If a couple can only afford one treatment cycle, IVF may not be the right course of action. Recall that on average, with conventional IVF, there is only about one chance in three that it will result in a live birth, and there is a tremendous letdown if it fails. It is thus unreasonable to undergo IVF with the attitude that “if it doesn’t work the first time, we’re giving up.” In vitro fertilization is a gamble even in the best of circumstances.
Statistically speaking, a woman under 40 years of age, using her own eggs, having selected a good IVF program is likely to have a better than 70% chance of having a baby within three completed attempts – provided that she has adequate ovarian reserve, (the ability to producing several follicles/eggs in response to gonadotropin stimulation), has a fertile male partner (or sperm donor sperm) with access to motile sperm, and has a normal and receptive uterus capable of developing an “adequate” uterine lining. Women of 39-43 years of age who meet the same criteria, will likely have about half that chance (35%- 40%).
When the most “competent” embryos are selected for transfer using a new genetic process (introduced into the clinical arena by SIRM in 2005), known as comparative genomic hybridization (CGH), the birth rate per single, completed IVF cycle is likely to exceed 60% (regardless of the age of the egg provider) and, more than 85% within three such attempts.
Unfortunately, there will inevitably always be some women/couples who in spite of best effort at conventional IVF will unfortunately remain childless. In my considered opinion, it rarely advisable to undergo more than three IVF attempts using the same approach each time. There is of course one important caveat: in women where the reason for repeated IVF failure is finally uncovered, it would indeed be justifiable (assuming there are sufficient emotional, physical and financial resources) to continue trying, using a defined and new approach that addresses the reason for prior failures. Simply stated, “the time to stop trying is when there is no remediable explanation for repeated failure to achieve a viable pregnancy”.
One very interesting case comes to mind. It happened a few years back when I consulted with a 42 year old Australian patient (she happened to also be a physician) who had undergone 22 prior failed attempts at IVF elsewhere. After determining that the reason for prior failures (at least in part) was due to a hitherto unrecognized immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID), I took her through yet another IVF attempt using selective immunotherapy. She conceived (using her own eggs) and went on to have a healthy baby boy. This case serves to point out that the time to stop doing IVF should not always be based on the number of prior failed attempts alone.
When conventional IVF (with or without egg donation and/or CGH embryo selection) fails to yield a successful outcome, other options such as ovum donation, IVF surrogacy, or adoption should be considered.
Although it is the right of any healthy women who has a uterus and is capable of producing even one follicle/egg to have the right to decide on doing IVF using her own eggs, given the very low success rate after 43 years of age (less than 10% per attempt and under 25% within 3 tries) it is my opinion that women over 43 years should be advised to rather do egg donor IVF. Here, regardless of the age of the embryo recipient, the IVF birth rate after a single attempt is about 60% – and better than 80% within three IVF attempts.
Couples who choose to undergo IVF should be encouraged to view the entire procedure with guarded optimism, but nevertheless must be emotionally prepared to deal with the ever‑present possibility of failure. It is important for IVF patients to be made to realize from the outset that an inability to become pregnant should never be considered a reflection on them as individuals.