Fertility treatments are pretty routine these days. At least 33 percent of adults say they, or a person they know, has used some type of fertility treatment. If a woman goes that route, what are her odds that she’ll get pregnant naturally the next time she wants to conceive?
Surprisingly, a new University College London (UCL) study found that they are pretty good: One in five women who rely on fertility treatments to conceive their first baby, will likely get pregnant naturally in the future.
When researchers analyzed data from 11 studies of over 5,000 women around the world between the years of 1980 to 2021, they found that at least 20 percent of the women conceived naturally after using fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) — and most were pregnant within the following three-year period.
Infertility is defined as the failure to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. This condition is on the rise. Currently, approximately 17.5 percent of the adult population — roughly 1 in 6 worldwide — experience infertility, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
One in five women who rely on fertility treatments to conceive their first baby will likely get pregnant naturally in the future.
The UCL findings offer hope that inconvenient, sometimes painful, and often expensive fertility treatments that were used to become pregnant the first time may not be necessary the next time a person wants to conceive.
“Our findings suggest that natural pregnancy after having a baby by IVF is far from rare. This is in contrast with widely held views — by women and health professionals — and those commonly expressed in the media, that it is a highly unlikely event,” lead author of the study, Annette Thwaites of the UCL EGA Institute for Women’s Health, said in a press statement.
A vast majority of participants in the study had a condition known as “subfertility,” where conceiving takes longer than is typically expected. It also means that not all women who seek and undergo fertility treatment are absolutely or permanently infertile.
In addition, a small number of participants underwent IVF because they are in a same-sex relationship, are a single parent or are a surrogate.
IVF was first used more than four decades ago in 1978 and since then more than 10 million babies worldwide have been born using the treatment. As a result, these recent findings can potentially affect millions of pregnancies. The researchers hope that the information they collected and analyzed can be used when counseling people about their options post-successful fertility treatment. The national average for women under 35 to be able to become pregnant by in-vitro fertilization on the first try (meaning, the first egg retrieval) is 55 percent. However, that number drops steadily as the woman’s age rises.
“Knowing what is possible would empower women to plan their families and make informed choices regarding further fertility treatment and/or contraception,” Dr. Thwaites said.
Patients who are good candidates for IVF include women who have:
- Blocked fallopian tubes
- Endometriosis, a condition in which cells similar to the lining of the uterus, or endometrium, grow outside the uterus.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in which numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) form in the ovaries.
- A decreased ovarian reserve.
- The couple has unexplained infertility. Estimates indicate this condition affects between 15 to 30 percent of couples.
- A male partner has fertility issues.
If a couple is experiencing infertility, the first step is an appointment with the ob-gyn to for an evaluation. The patient may also see a reproductive endocrinologist (an ob-gyn with special training in infertility). Men may make an appointment with a urologist.
The study is published in the journal Human Reproduction.