IVF Process Step by Step: How Long It Takes & What To Expect

| Reviewed By Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

The IVF process can be daunting due to the multiple steps involved.

However, knowing what to expect and what kind of time commitment is in store can help you be ready for each step on the journey.

How long is the IVF process? While it can vary depending on how many rounds of IVF you have and your unique circumstances, one round of IVF usually takes about 4-6 weeks. Within this time, you and your partner will go through many different steps, and hopefully these will end with a positive pregnancy test. 

Each step of the process has to be performed in the right order, so read on to know when to expect each stage to occur and what you will experience along the way.

IVF Process Step by Step

Before IVF can begin, you have to make sure you are a good candidate for the procedure. Once that’s confirmed, you will start down the road that could lead you to your child.

Step 1. Consultation & Patient Screening

Your doctor will consult with you and your partner and make sure you are good candidates for IVF before starting the process.

You and your partner will give a detailed health history and go through testing to determine the quality of both the sperm and the eggs.

You will also have hormone levels tested, and all the specific factors in your situation will be evaluated before further steps are taken.

While blood can be drawn and tests can be performed in the office, it may take days or a week to get all the test results you need. Once your doctor gives the green light, you can proceed.

Step 2. Ovary Stimulation

Instead of the single egg that is usually produced during ovulation, doctors will give you medication to ensure you produce many eggs when you ovulate.

Though not all of them will be viable, producing more eggs gives you more chances of having at least one that can be retrieved and transferred.

You could receive medication you need to inject. You could also just get oral medication to take, though many women are prescribed both.

In addition, medication to ensure you don’t ovulate too early and that eggs mature will also be given.

Expect to take a lot of drugs during this phase to help prepare your body for what is coming next. Expect this stage to take between 8 and 14 days.

Step 3. Egg Retrieval

You will be sedated during egg retrieval. The usual method involves a transvaginal ultrasound and a needle extraction of one of the eggs from inside the follicles.

You will receive pain medication to help with this process, and you will be in recovery for about an hour after it takes place.

Egg retrieval takes a matter of hours, though you want to ensure you have a day to rest in case you feel drowsy or sore afterward.

Step 4. Sperm Retrieval

If your partner is providing sperm, he will likely do it through masturbation. A sample can be collected in the office. Donor sperm can also be used.

This does not take much time and is usually just left in a cup at the front desk when you leave the office.

There is another way to retrieve sperm, testicular aspiration, if your partner is unable to provide it through masturbation.

Step 5. Fertilization

The sperm and the egg will be combined using one of two processes: regular insemination or intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

Regular insemination will be tried first because it is simpler. ICSI is a more precise process that is used if there are concerns about sperm quality.

You will not have to be in the office for fertilization since the eggs and sperm will already have been retrieved.

Step 6. Preparing the Uterus

At this point, you will likely already have taken medication to help prepare your uterus for the upcoming embryo transfer. However, you may need more.

Your doctor may continue progesterone injections leading up to the transfer. This process can take about six days.

Step 7. Evaluation of Embryos

The embryos are evaluated to see which ones are ideal for transfer. This is usually done about 48 hours after they are retrieved, but it can also be done sooner or around day 3.

Doctors are looking for the cell number and many other factors that make certain embryos better than others for transplantation.

They may also be evaluating embryos for proper grouping if you are having more than one transferred.

Step 8. Embryo Transfer

Embryos are transferred anywhere from two days to a week after eggs are retrieved. You will have this done in a doctor’s office.

A catheter will be placed into your uterus through your vagina followed by a syringe transporting the embryos.

While this is not a particularly painful procedure, you can ask for a sedative to help calm your anxiety and help you relax.

You can go back to normal activities after the transfer, but make sure you talk to your doctor before considering anything that is physically vigorous. You may be sore and bloated after the transfer.

Step 9. Pregnancy Test

In most cases, you will have a blood test to check for pregnancy around two weeks after egg retrieval.

This will be done in your doctor’s office, and results should come within a day or two depending on what lab your doctor uses.

How Long Does IVF Take From First Appointment?

The IVF process from start to finish usually takes about 4-6 weeks. That means that from the consultation appointment to the pregnancy test, you are looking at a month to a month and a half for one round of IVF.

If more are required, your doctor will talk to you about timing, cost, and success rates.

IVF Success Rate on First Attempt

The first attempt at IVF has about a 30% chance of leading to a live birth. That’s why many women end up going through more than one cycle before successfully conceiving and carrying a pregnancy to term.

IVF Success Rates Under 35

If you’re under 35, your success rate for IVF is higher than for older women. The success rate is around 55%

IVF Success Rates Over 40

Being over 40 substantially lowers your chances of successful IVF. The success rate is just at 7%, and it gets lower as you age.

Egg quality goes down as you age, and this is at least part of the reason that the chances of successful IVF decrease.

Related Questions: 

What Stage Does Most IVF Fail?

While there are a ton of different factors that impact how successful IVF is, the stage that often sees the most failure is embryo implantation.

If the embryo does not implant, then nothing can move forward. This can happen for many reasons and is devastating.

How Many Rounds of IVF Is Average?

Around three rounds of IVF are standard, though it’s possible to need more or less. Some clinics stop treatments at 3 or 4, but others will allow a woman to have up to six rounds. 

Closing Thoughts

IVF is an expensive and time-consuming process, but it can lead to a successful pregnancy for many couples.

Knowing what to expect and having a clear understanding of the timeline involved can help you be prepared for the journey and keep your expectations realistic.