A report from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) released today shows a record number of births from in vitro fertilization in the United States in one year. According to the report, 61,740 babies were conceived and delivered in 2012 using state of the art technology that involves science rather than sex. Although that leaves 98.5 percent of the 3.9 million babies born in the U.S. conceived the old-fashioned way, it is remarkable that the combination of scientific research and innovative technology now allows so many women to conceive artificially.
The over 60,000 births from in vitro fertilization techniques (also known as IVF) were the successful result of 379 clinics that specialize in fertility procedures and 165,172 attempts to produce viability. Considering that since 1978 when the first test-tube baby was born in England more than two-thirds of IVF attempts have failed, these new statistics represent resounding success for the technology and for the women who likely experienced setbacks and disappointment along their traditional conception journey and are now mothers.
Another positive on the IVF front is that better success rates now give more women the confidence to have just one fertilized egg implanted which is reducing the number of twins and triplets that often resulted from a “more eggs increases the odds” approach to successful IVF. There is no doubt that sex benefits the human body and psyche in many ways, but it is science that brought satisfaction to the thousands of women last year who wanted to be mothers but needed the assistance of in vitro fertilization to conceive their babies.
According to the Mayo Clinic IVF is “the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology” but it is also an extraordinarily expensive one and is not often covered by medical insurance. Along with medical factors, the age of the woman plays a significant role in the cost as well – the older the woman, the more medication she will require and chances are high that more than one cycle of treatment will be necessary.
There are things women (and men) can do to increase their fertility success. The Mayo Clinic recommends maintaining a healthy weight, protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), making sure to eat a healthy diet including a daily prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid and scheduling regular checkups to make sure there are not underlying health conditions that might prevent conception. The Mayo Clinic also suggests minimizing stress and to “practice healthy coping methods — such as relaxation techniques — when you’re trying to conceive.”
For men, health, nutrition and protection from STIs are also factors that can increase the success of IVF, as is regular masturbation, which has been shown to increase the health and viability of sperm. About half of infertility cases are due to a low sperm count and if a couple has been trying to conceive for over a year with unprotected sex, further tests may be in order to determine if low sperm count, or “oligospermia” is a contributing factor.
Important as well are the things to avoid while trying to conceive and the Mayo Clinic recommends woman do not smoke, that they curb their consumption of alcohol and caffeine and avoid “intense aerobic activity” because it can inhibit ovulation and reduce the production of the critical hormone progesterone. It is also important to reduce exposure to toxins, specifically in the case of agricultural workers, hair stylists, dental assistants and industrial workers who all may come in regular contact with high levels of organic solvents, drugs or chemicals used in manufacturing.
Women seeking in vitro fertilization treatment are liable to face substantial medical costs with estimates over $12,000 and each subsequent cycle is an additional expense. However, as the science of IVF continues to improve, eventually one cycle may suffice as many women have discovered is possible with traditional unprotected sex rather than IVF. For women seeking motherhood however, the daunting initial financial outlay can pay off in spades with the birth of the babies they have been longing for.
By Alana Marie Burke
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