Government data show that 1 out of every 6 couples, about 11 percent of women ages 15 to 44 in the United States, have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a child to term, but innovative reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) are helping more couples today start the families they deserve.

A natural approach

IVF is the most common type of assisted reproductive technology (ART). The process involves the fertilization of a female egg outside the body in a laboratory dish, and then the implantation of the embryo in the woman’s uterus. The procedure is meant to simulate natural conception, wherein male sperm penetrates a woman’s egg and fertilizes it inside her body after ovulation—when the ovaries release a mature egg. The fertilized egg becomes an embryo, attaches itself to the womb—the wall of the uterus—and a baby begins to develop.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about 1 percent of U.S. infants are conceived via IVF, and the procedure has contributed to about 5 million births worldwide since about 35 years ago, when the procedure was introduced.

Noninvasive alternatives

When a woman can’t get pregnant, noninvasive procedures such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), wherein sperm are placed inside the cervix, are often considered before IVF, said Kathryn C. Worrilow, founder of LifeAire, who received her PhD in Anatomy and Cell Physiology from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and completed her postdoctoral fellowship in Reproductive Physiology and Infertility at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  She has enjoyed a career as a laboratory director and provider of IVF.

“Our goal was always to help the couple using the simplest approaches possible.  Our practice did not want anyone to go through IVF unless they absolutely need to take that step,” said Worrilow, who has studied factors that can influence IVF success rates and had practiced IVF for over two decades. “It’s [IVF] time consuming, it’s medically difficult, it’s financially difficult, it’s emotional.”

"Barriers to becoming pregnant include if a woman’s fallopian tubes are missing or blocked, if a man has low sperm counts, or if a woman has severe endometriosis."

Barriers to becoming pregnant include if a woman’s fallopian tubes are missing or blocked, if a man has low sperm count, or if a woman has severe endometriosis. According to the Mayo Clinic, endometriosis a painful disorder wherein the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus, called the endometrium, grows outside the uterus.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average percentage of fresh, nondonor ART cycles that result in live birth decrease by nearly 10 percent every two years a woman ages beyond 35 years old. That success rate is 40 percent for women younger than 35, 32 percent for women ages 35 to 37, 22 percent for women ages 38 to 40, and so on.

A number of factors outside of age can influence IVF success rates, Worrilow noted.  

An area of focus for many fertility specialists today is ensuring labs in which IVF is performed are protected from all potential sources of contamination. After all, IVF requires mimicking the protective female uterine tract when growing an embryo outside of the human body.

A myriad of pathogens—either from a running car outdoors or construction workers repaving a street outside a fertility clinic—can infect the air and negatively affect how successful an IVF procedure will be, Worrilow said.

“Just by the very nature of performing IVF or any clinical procedure, you’re introducing pathogens into the air,” Worrilow said.

But attending a lab that uses a comprehensive air purification system to neutralize these variables from the air has been shown to increase IVF fertility rates by nearly 50 percent, she said. The same System can also kill the pathogens responsible for MRSA, influenza, TB, measles and more.

When seeking an IVF specialist, Worrilow suggests asking the following questions:

  • What are your clinical pregnancy rates, and are they consistent? If there are issues with the environment, they’re typically not consistent, she said, and a doctor may see seasonal changes in his or her pregnancy rates.
  • What are you doing to ensure the consistency of the optimal environment for the embryo? To purify the air in the IVF laboratory and clinical procedure rooms?
  • What are your pregnancy rates based on maternal age, and how does that number look for me?
  • How long has the clinical and lab team been together, and who is responsible for said pregnancy rates?

Because IVF can be costly, both emotionally and financially, Worrilow recommended requesting to meet with potential IVF lab teams, as a procedure’s success rate depends not only on the physician’s actions but also on his or her whole team’s role in the effort.

“Asking who is in contact with the embryo that is being grown in vitro and knowing whether they have respect for what you’re going through is key,” Worrilow said.