A growing number of women opting for natural cycle IVF
Women are increasingly opting for old-school IVF that is both body and pocket-friendly.
30-year old Shweta Sharma smiles as she feels the baby inside her kicking. But less than a year ago, the Delhi resident and her husband had started looking up adoption agencies, having given up hopes for a biological child.
Sharma had not only failed to conceive despite two costly cycles of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) but also spent a "nightmarish" week hospitalized because of ovarian hyperstimulation — a side effect of multiple fertility injections.
Once Sharma learnt about 'natural IVF', a method with no drugs or jabs, and decided to try one last time. Two weeks after the treatment, Sharma missed her period and a test confirmed pregnancy.
Sharma is among a growing number of women opting for natural cycle IVF. This, incidentally, is the method by which the world's first 'test tube baby' Louise Brown was conceived in 1978. The treatment was abandoned soon after because of its poor success rate and replaced by the drug-intensive IVF that is typically used today because of better results.
More than 3.7 million babies every year are born worldwide with the help of fertility treatments. Now the old-school approach is making a comeback due to the preference for 'all things natural' and because its success rate has improved owing to advances in ultrasound technology and superior medical expertise.
In standard IVF, women are administered injections daily for at least 12 days to stimulate their ovaries to produce 12 to 14 eggs simultaneously. The doctors create multiple embryos in the laboratory and transfer the best two or three to the patient's uterus to increase chances of pregnancy. That's why a substantial proportion of IVF patients give birth to twins or triplets.
On the other hand, natural IVF works within a woman's normal monthly cycle to collect the one egg her ovaries naturally release. The single resultant embryo is implanted in her uterus so there is no chance of multiple births.
Lately, several infertility clinics in India have started offering natural IVF along with two other 'gentle' methods, modified natural IVF and mild IVF. These involve lower doses of drugs for a shorter duration compared to the standard procedure. At Mumbai's Rotunda clinic 50% of patients now undergo 'IVF-Lite', a mild IVF program, instead of the conventional one. The International Fertility Centre in Delhi conducts natural IVF for around eight patients, while Srushti clinic in Chennai treats at least 15 patients every month with the 'mild' method.
Candidates for the 'gentler' methods include very young and older women. Women over 38 are recommended natural IVF as they often produce only two-three eggs even when given the "highest doses" of stimulant drugs.
For some women, natural IVF is one of several available options, for others it is the only one. These include cancer patients and women with endometriosis (a uterus disorder) as their conditions can get compromised by hormonal drugs. Doctors also recommend natural IVF to patients who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) as they are at higher risk for hyperstimulation -- some producing as many as 50 eggs after injections.
Without the side effects
Another additional benefit of the natural way is that it is more affordable. "Even if it takes four attempts to get pregnant with natural IVF, the overall cost is less than if the woman underwent two rounds of the drug-intensive treatment," says Dr Rita Bakshi, IVF specialist at the International Fertility Centre.
Also many patients find natural IVF less stressful. "When a woman goes through a painful and agonizing course of injections and still fails to conceive, she is shattered. With natural IVF, she knows in advance that we are banking on just one egg," says Dr Malpani.
While standard IVF boasts an average success rate of 40 per cent, doctors say natural IVF shows 'good' results too. Research published in the 2007 issue of Lancet found Mild IVF equally successful as standard IVF, with four out of ten women getting pregnant. Despite the encouraging results, most fertility clinics across the country don't offer natural IVF.
Experts say this is because the procedure is high maintenance — a "very skilled doctor" is required and staff needs to be available round the clock to retrieve the egg from a patient's ovaries as soon as it matures. "Sometimes a natural IVF requires more attempts to achieve a pregnancy.
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