What to expect from your IVF timeline
How long does an IVF cycle take, and what are the steps involved? In vitro fertilization (IVF) can feel overwhelming. And different sources define “one IVF cycle” differently, making it hard to find a simple answer of what to expect. We’ve broken down an IVF cycle into steps to lay out how long it takes and what is involved.
How Long Does a Typical IVF Cycle Take?
Each IVF cycle varies a bit, depending on how the patient responds to the medications involved, the specific techniques used, and other factors. Broadly speaking, an IVF cycle takes about 4-8 weeks from starting medications to the embryo transfer.
A standard IVF timeline looks like this:
- Pre-Cycle Hormone Regulation (2-3 weeks)
- Ovarian Stimulation (2 weeks)
- Hormone Trigger Shot (36 hours before egg retrieval)
- Egg Retrieval (3 hours)
- Fertilization & Embryo Development (4-6 days)
- Embryo Transfer (3 hours)
- Pregnancy Test (2 weeks after embryo transfer)
If you’re doing a frozen embryo transfer (FET), using pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT-A), or using donor eggs, your timeline will look a little different. Let’s look into how long each step of the IVF cycle takes.
Pre-Cycle: Hormonal Regulation
IVF cycles are timed around your regular menstrual cycle. To help make your period more consistent and regulate ovulation, you’ll take prescribed birth control pills for a little while before officially starting your cycle. Usually, you’ll take these pills every day for around 2-3 weeks.
How Long Does Ovarian Stimulation in an IVF Cycle Take?
Normally, each month your ovaries produce and release a single egg. For IVF, you want to retrieve many eggs to increase the chance of fertilization and healthy embryo development. For this reason, the IVF cycle begins with self-injected hormones that stimulate your ovaries, encouraging them to produce multiple mature eggs.
This step takes the longest in an IVF cycle. You’ll inject these medications 2-3 times a day for around two weeks. During this time, you’ll also come to the clinic for 3-6 appointments so your team can monitor your body’s response to the hormones. Near the end of this two-week period, your specialist will determine (using an ultrasound) when enough eggs have matured, and will administer a “trigger shot” to prepare for the retrieval.
Trigger Shot and Egg Retrieval
The trigger shot contains a specific hormone that tells your ovaries to release the matured eggs. The timing of the trigger shot is very important: 36 hours before the egg retrieval. That gives your fertility specialist a window to retrieve the eggs once they are released from the ovaries but before they move into the fallopian tubes.
The egg retrieval part of an IVF cycle doesn’t take very long – the procedure itself is only about 30 minutes, with around an hour in the clinic before and after.
If you will be using your partner’s sperm for IVF, they will typically provide a sperm sample in the clinic on the same day as the egg retrieval.
Fertilization, Embryo Development, and Embryo Transfer
After the egg retrieval, our embryologists combine the eggs and sperm (from either your partner or a donor) in our on-site lab. Over the next few days, the embryologist carefully monitors fertilization and embryo development. After 5 days of development, any viable blastocysts (an early embryo stage) can either be used in a fresh embryo transfer or frozen for later use or genetic testing.
As with the egg retrieval, the embryo transfer doesn’t take very long in the overall IVF cycle. The procedure lasts about 30 minutes, again with some time in the clinic before and after. Unlike the egg retrieval, the embryo transfer doesn’t use anesthesia, so it requires less recovery time in the clinic after.
The Two Week Wait
Other phases of an IVF cycle might take longer in terms of days, but the 10-14 day wait between the embryo transfer and the official pregnancy test can certainly feel like the longest step. Waiting to find out if the transfer was successful can be challenging, but we do recommend that you wait until the formal test and don’t take an early at-home pregnancy test. This article has more tips for post-embryo transfer recovery, including ways to stay grounded during the two-week wait.
How Long Does an IVF Cycle Take With FET or Donor Eggs?
If you’re doing a frozen embryo transfer (FET), you’ll typically add at least a few weeks to your IVF timeline. Similar to the start of the IVF cycle, you’ll need to re-regulate your cycle with birth control pills and then take specific medications to prepare your uterus for implantation. Your fertility specialist will monitor your uterus to make sure it’s ready before the embryo transfer.
If you’re using donor eggs, the donor will go through the pre-retrieval medications and egg retrieval. You will also receive medications and monitoring to prepare your uterus before the embryo transfer. For all types of IVF, the embryo transfer process and two-week wait is generally the same for the patient.
We’re Here With You On Your Journey
How long an IVF cycle takes depends on your individual situation. We are here to help create a treatment plan that meets your needs, and navigate the logistics along the way.
For more information, schedule an initial consultation today.