An IVF process timeline
One of the most common questions we are asked is – what is the IVF process timeline? Naturally, patients are keen to understand what will happen, and when, so they can prepare. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer. Given the huge range of circumstances unique to each patient, and the corresponding range of solutions, there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. That being said, we support thousands of people on their fertility journey each year, and we do see a common path. Here, we share a very broad overview of a typical IVF process timeline.
For more specific information bespoke to your fertility needs, consult with your clinic. The IVF process timeline often depends on the clinic, any waiting lists they have and what protocol they recommend for you. Use our clinic finder to see all the clinics that partner with Access Fertility in offering our programmes.
Starting your IVF journey
The IVF process timeline - click on the + symbol for more information on each stage
- 1. Chat to our fertility nurse for free to explore your options
If you’re new to IVF, it can be confusing. You can use search engines to learn more, but you’ll find a minefield of misinformation and an overwhelming amount of choice.
We offer free nurse consultations to anyone who would like to explore their options. These consultations are totally free and cover all available treatment options, not just Access Fertility programmes. There is no waiting list to book our free nurse consultations – there are plenty of appointments available. You can discuss NHS treatment, private treatment or simply find out a bit more about the fertility options which exist. Our fertility nurse, Kelly, will call you at the time you choose, for a 30 minute consultation. Come to the call with any questions or topics you’d like to cover – we’ll do our best to answer them.
If you already know which treatment you need, you can skip to the next step. Please note that we can’t provide advice about any ongoing treatment. In that instance, you should speak to your doctor for information and advice.
- 2. Find an IVF clinic near you
Once you have a better understanding of the options available to you, the next port of call is to find the right clinic for you. We recommend choosing a clinic that is near to where you live, as this will make the logistics of your treatment easier. To help you find an IVF clinic near you, we have a useful map of our partner clinics, which you can look through at your leisure. All of the clinics listed here offer Access Fertility’s programmes, which are designed to lower and fix the cost of your treatment. You will see there are contact forms on our site for you to easily get in touch with the clinic you prefer.
- 3. Register with Access Fertility
Around the same time, you can contact Access Fertility to register with us. Registration is free, and quick to complete – there are no waiting lists. You can register over the phone, which takes around ten minutes.
We don’t require you to undertake any further medical assessments to register with us. Instead, we ask for your permission to allow your clinic to share your test results with us.
Once you’ve completed registration, we’ll give you access to an online portal. Here you can see all your account information whenever you need it. Everything is done electronically or over the phone, meaning fewer physical appointments to add to your diary. You are only required to pay if you are going ahead with the programme and before you start treatment.
- 4. Make an appointment with your clinic
When you have found a clinic that you like, you should contact them to make an appointment. Many people assume that you will need a referral from a GP to get an appointment with a private fertility clinic. However, this isn’t actually required and you can self-refer whenever you are ready. Do note that it is standard practice for IVF clinics to register you before booking an appointment, and this can incur a small fee.
At this stage, there will be a big difference in the IVF process timeline, depending on which clinic you choose. Some clinics have a waiting list while others can see you immediately. This may be a consideration when you select the clinic that you wish to use.
- 5. Your initial consultation
Your first appointment at the IVF clinic will be an initial consultation with a fertility doctor. While some clinics offer pre-testing beforehand, others do your tests at the initial consultation itself or after. On the one hand, if you’re sure of your preferred treatment, pre-testing can be useful, so you can discuss results straight away. On the other hand, if you’re still exploring your options it might be better to speak to the doctor first. Either way, it shouldn’t impact your IVF process timeline significantly.
At this stage, most of the tests are blood tests. Male partners will need to give a sperm sample. Some clinics may do a pelvic scan, which is done internally (transvaginally). They may also do a HyCoSy ultrasound to assess your fallopian tubes and your womb. The doctor will use a speculum to pass a dye through the cervix, which is then visible on internal (tranvaginal) ultrasound scans. If you have already had any of these tests done during NHS treatment, you may not need to do it again. Instead, the clinic will ask for your permission to access your medical notes.
Once your results are ready, the doctor will explain your options. For example, ICSI may be right for you, instead of IVF. At this time, you’ll go through the drug regime which the doctor recommends. This will allow you to more clearly see your own specific timeline for the process you’ll follow.
- 6. Complete the clinic consent forms
If you’re happy with the doctor’s recommendation, you’ll complete the clinic’s consent forms and HFEA consents to give permission for them to go ahead. This is an important step, and the clinic will explain what you’ve been asked to sign.
- 7. Nurse planning appointment
Before you start your treatment, the clinic fertility nurse will meet you to explain when and how to take the medication. All fertility treatment involves injecting medication, and the nurse will take you through how to do the injections. Feel free to come with any questions you have – it’s important you feel confident and comfortable.
- 8. Starting treatment
There are two different ways you may start your treatment, and these will affect the beginning of your IVF process timeline, but not the outcome. The choice of protocol is purely based on clinic preference and your unique medical profile.
Short protocol – antagonist
Generally, most patients follow a short ‘antagonist’ drug protocol. On day one of your period, you’ll start injections of a drug that’s designed to stimulate your ovaries. You’ll follow the plan that you discussed with the clinic fertility nurse. Some people find the injections painless, while others find it very uncomfortable. Similarly, many people manage to do their injections on their own, while others prefer to ask a partner to help. This can be a nice way to involve your partner in the process.
The drugs you take will cause the oestrogen hormone level in your blood to rise. As a result, you may experience some breast tenderness or bloating, nausea, or increased emotions. Do talk to your fertility nurse if you have any concerns about your symptoms.
Throughout the two week period of stimulation, you’ll visit the clinic for blood tests and up to three scans. Some patients may need more than three. This is to monitor how your egg-producing follicles are developing. Your appointments will take place at times that suit you best, and take around 20 minutes.
During the short protocol treatment, your body will produce all the hormones you would normally create in a month. Part way through your treatment, you will start injecting a drug called Cetrolix, which will stop your body from ovulating prematurely. That way, the eggs can mature fully before they’re collected.
Long protocol – agonist
Conversely, a long ‘agonist’ drug protocol starts on day 21 of your period or day one. You’ll inject a drug called Buserelin for around two weeks, to suppress any ovarian activity (the down regulation). After a scan to check your ovaries are inactive and contain no cysts, you will switch to the short protocol regime, just as described above.
The long protocol is the oldest approach, and is less common. However, it is the most effective method to control the cycle and prevent premature ovulation. Doctors may prefer this option when the patient has ovarian cysts.
Side effects are more common from the Buserelin used in the long protocol. The reason for this is that the body is sent into a mini menopausal state when it suppresses all ovarian activity. As such, patients can experience hot flushes, headaches and lapses of memory. It is important to note that these effects are not permanent. Patients will usually feel fully better after treatment, when the body returns to normal.
- 9. Trigger Injection
Around 34-36 hours before you’re booked in for egg collection, you’ll do a ‘trigger injection’. You’ll do this at home, following the guidance from your fertility nurse. The trigger injection matures the eggs ready for egg collection. It contains ‘human chorionic gonadotropin’ (HcG), commonly known as the ‘pregnancy hormone’.
Once again, some patients do experience side effects from the trigger injection, while others feel none. Bloating, or stomach/pelvic pain are most common. A rarer complication is Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), where the ovaries become swollen and filled with fluid. You clinic will advise you on any abnormal symptoms and what to do if you have concerns.
- 10. Egg collection
On the day of your egg collection, you’ll visit the clinic for the procedure, which takes around half an hour. Doctors will pass a very fine needle through the vaginal wall and into the ovary to collect the eggs. You’ll be under a mild sedation to take the edge off any discomfort. Consequently, you should plan to take the rest of the day off, and ideally the following day too, to recover from the sedation. It’s important that you have someone collect you from the clinic – you mustn’t drive because of the sedation.
- 11. Providing sperm
If you’re planning to use a fresh sperm sample, the clinic will collect this on the same day as the eggs. The clinic will help you time this so that immediately after egg collection, they can be fertilised with sperm.
Otherwise, if your treatment requires a sample taken via a surgical procedure, the sample will be taken before egg collection day and frozen. Occasionally, surgical sperm retrieval (SSR) is carried out on the day of egg collection.
Similarly, if you have sperm in storage, or are using a sperm donation, the clinic will thaw the sample on egg collection day.
Either way, on the day of egg collection, the embryologist will prepare the sperm sample so that the very best sperm are being used to fertilise the eggs.
- 12. Egg insemination
There are two ways in which your eggs may be inseminated.
In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) involves sperm being added to the eggs in a culture dish.
Meanwhile, Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) is where the embryologist selects a single sperm and injects it into an egg, then puts the egg into a culture dish.
Either way, the culture dishes then go into an incubator for fertilisation. Your doctor will advise the right treatment for your unique circumstances.
- 13. Embryo growth and grading
The clinic can see within 24 hours how many eggs have been fertilised and will inform you of their progress. You’ll receive a grading of the embryos on day three that will tell you what potential they have for development. Between day three and day five, some of those embryos will hopefully develop into blastocysts. Then, the clinic will give a blastocyst grading. This complex assessment helps the clinic to decide which are the best embryos to transfer.
Throughout this period, your clinic will keep in touch with Access Fertility to inform us of your results. That way, you can relax and focus on your treatment.
- 14. Preparing for transfer
Shortly after egg collection, you’ll start taking drugs that help your body prepare to receive an embryo. This progesterone is taken as a vaginal pessary or gel all the way up until your pregnancy test (and beyond if it’s positive).
You’ll schedule embryo transfer around five days after egg collection, though this can depend on the number and quality of your embryos.
- 15. Embryo transfer
Once again, this stage of the IVF process takes place at the clinic. Some clinics do a ‘trial’ embryo transfer, so that doctors can see in advance if there will be any issues before the actual transfer. For the patient, the transfer itself will be identical.
The embryo transfer procedure feels a little like a cervical smear, but lasts longer – around 20 minutes. With the help of a speculum, a catheter carefully deposits a tiny drop containing an embryo into the uterus.
Any other fertilised eggs can be frozen at this stage for future use. All our partner clinics follow HFEA guidance recommending they transfer only one embryo, to avoid the risks associated with multiple births.
Immediately after embryo transfer, you can get back to normal activities, but you should avoid anything too strenuous.
- 16. The two week wait
It’s well-known that the two week wait after embryo transfer to find out if you are pregnant is extremely difficult. We understand how stressful it can be, and would encourage any patient to try and keep occupied during this time. It’s not necessary to have a doctor’s note for time off work – now is the time to keep your mind busy and live as normally as you can.
It is important that you wait for the full two weeks before taking a pregnancy test. Unfortunately, testing early can result in misleading results, which can cause unnecessary angst.
- 17. Pregnancy test
Some clinics ask patients to do a home pregnancy test, while others ask you to come in for a blood test. Either way, this will take place around 15 days after egg collection.
If you are pregnant, most clinics will offer a scan at around 6-8 weeks. If everything looks OK, you can continue the rest of your pregnancy under the care of your GP and midwife.
If your test result is negative, your clinic will be in touch to discuss your next steps.
Either way, there is no need to contact Access Fertility. We will liaise directly with the clinic so you don’t have to.
We understand that going through the IVF process can be very stressful. Our team of friendly, expert patient advisors are here to support you however we can. If you’d like to chat about your IVF journey, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
- 2. Find an IVF clinic near you