Explaining the hormone requirements for IVF and alternatives to self-injections
If you’re considering trying in vitro fertilization (IVF) to become pregnant, you may have wondered, does IVF require hormone shots? Are there any alternatives to giving yourself daily hormone injections? We recognize that some patients struggle with the idea of self-injecting medications. Over the years, we’ve gathered several tips to make the hormone shots easier. Many of our patients find these very helpful. If regular injections are still too difficult, there are alternative IVF paths that may be possible for some patients.
Why Does IVF Need So Many Hormones?
Parts of IVF involve amplifying or simulating natural processes through hormone medication. IVF treatment uses hormones mainly for:
- Regulating your menstrual cycle
- Ovarian stimulation
- Preparing your uterus for an embryo transfer
In a naturally-occurring pregnancy, the body produces many hormones on its own that tell ovaries when to release eggs, or make the uterus into a welcoming environment for an embryo to implant. When you conceive through assisted reproduction, hormone medications help to recreate those messages or conditions. In some cases, they also amplify the body’s natural process. For example, the hormones involved in ovarian stimulation encourage the ovaries to develop several mature eggs for retrieval, rather than the one mature egg that would usually develop during ovulation.
What Hormone Shots Does IVF Usually Require?
A traditional IVF cycle uses a carefully scheduled routine of self-injected, high-dose hormone shots. These hormones are called gonadotropins, and are designed to boost your ovaries’ egg development before the egg retrieval. Typically, you’ll need to self-inject the hormones multiple times a day for around 14 days. This process is called ovarian stimulation.
During ovarian stimulation, your doctor will carefully monitor your hormone levels and egg development through blood tests and ultrasounds. Every patient responds differently to gonadotropins, so your doctor will tailor your treatment and dosages to you to reduce the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a rare reaction to hormone medications.
Once enough egg follicles have developed, you’ll receive a different shot in the clinic, usually of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This shot, also called a “trigger shot,” happens around 36 hours before your egg retrieval and tells your ovaries to release the matured eggs.
In addition to the injected medications, a traditional IVF cycle can include other hormonal medications such as birth control pills or vaginal suppositories.
Are There Alternative IVF Cycles That Don’t Require Hormone Shots?
There are types of IVF that use fewer injected medications. These cycles are sometimes called minimal stimulation, mini-, micro-, or natural IVF cycles. These cycles replace the high-dose injected medications of a typical IVF cycle with oral medications, lower-dose hormone shots, or a combination of the two. You will still receive the trigger shot at the clinic before the egg retrieval.
Minimal stimulation cycles can have benefits like needing fewer shots, reducing overall medication cost, and minimizing potential side effects. However, the less powerful medications in a minimal stimulation cycle usually result in fewer eggs retrieved and somewhat lower success rates than a typical cycle. If you are interested in a minimal stimulation cycle, discuss your options with your fertility doctor to determine if it can be an effective approach for you.
Ways to Make IVF Hormone Injections Easier
If you decide to do a traditional IVF cycle, here are some ways to make the required hormone shots more manageable:
- Ask a partner/ friend/ loved one to help
- Relax your muscles as much as possible
- Alternate injection spots (ex. Right thigh in the morning, left hip at night)
- Ask your doctor if you can warm up certain medications to make them thinner
- Use ice, doctor-approved balms, or gentle massage around the injection sites
Ask your fertility team for their preferred tips to help lessen injection pain or swelling. We’ve helped hundreds of patients give thousands of shots, and every team member has their own favorite tips!
We’re Here to Help You Find Your Own Path
Your IVF experience should be tailored to you at every step of the way. There are many different ways to approach IVF, based on your specific needs, preferences, and goals. Whether you’re concerned about handling the IVF hormone shot requirements or looking to learn more about the different hormones involved, we are here to answer your questions and work with you to build your treatment plan. For more information, reach out to us today.