When women need help conceiving, they often turn to in vitro fertilization—but it’s unfortunately not guaranteed to work. Now, new research has found that persistence is key when it comes to IVF. A recent study of nearly 157,000 women who received IVF found that the treatment becomes more effective the more you have it. But…it takes a while to increase your odds of success.
For the study, which was published in JAMA, researchers followed women as they underwent IVF between 2003 and 2010, and followed up with them again in 2012. The median age when women started IVF was 35 years, and the median amount of time they were infertile was four years.
For all women, the odds of having a baby on the first IVF attempt was 29.5 percent. That stayed pretty steady through their fourth attempt, but the chance of having a baby jumped up to 65 percent by the sixth attempt.
The odds were slightly different depending on a woman’s age (women under the age of 40 who used their own eggs had a 32 percent chance of having a baby with the first IVF cycle; those odds dropped to 12 percent for 40- to 42-year-olds, and less than four percent for women over the age of 42).
“For couples embarking on IVF, they should view it as a relatively long-term process of treatment,” says lead study Debbie Lawlor, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the U.K.’s University of Bristol.
Lawlor says she was “somewhat surprised” that couples who underwent IVF could eventually have birth rates similar to those who conceived naturally. She also points out that it’s heartening that women who had zero or a small number of eggs retrieved after one cycle of hormone stimulation could still go on to have children after later attempts.
While it’s great to know that IVF can work better with time, the process can be stressful AF for couples. It’s also not exactly cheap, the average cost of IVF is $12,000 to $15,000, and insurance companies often don’t cover it.
But Mark Surrey, says it might take several rounds of IVF to have a baby if a fertility specialist doesn’t test the embryos for viability first. “Whereas the study suggests by the sixth cycle, 65 percent of women were able to have a baby, we can now get that in one cycle,” he says.
What can you do to increase the odds your first attempt is successful? Lawlor says your age is a biggie. “Clearly there are lots of considerations for couples regarding when they might want to start a family, but the chances of conceiving naturally and with IVF are greater for women under the age of 40 than those older,” she says. Surrey also stresses the importance of making sure the embryo that is implanted is viable: “Make sure you go to a lab that thoroughly evaluates the genetic testing of embryos.”
Of course, sometimes that’s out of your hands. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking can also make a big difference, since obesity and smoking reduce fertility.