In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a big commitment. It requires commitment of one’s body, time, and money. Most couples considering the treatment ask how many cycles will it take to have a baby. Until recently, the only response to that question relied on the odds of having a live baby for each cycle individually. A study conducted at Harvard Medical School reveals the odds actually improve as cycles are repeated. By the sixth cycle, most women have the same odds of giving birth to a live baby as a woman of the same age with no fertility problems.

Women under the age of 35 have about a 40 percent chance of having a baby with each cycle of IVF treatment. The odds drop a bit for women older than 35. Traditionally, each individual cycle was thought of as a unique situation, with no cumulative effect from one cycle to the next if additional cycles were tried.

Dr. Alan Penzias and his research team wanted to know if additional cycles increased the odds of live-birth or did truly remain the same each time. His analytical study was a joint effort between Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston IVF, where Penzias is a reproductive endocrinologist, and Harvard Medical School, where Penzias is a professor.

The Harvard study involved analysis of more than 14,000 IVF cycles involving more than 6,000 patients. Findings across all ages of the women under study indicate:

  • Cycles 1 and 2: The rate of live-birth remains about the same, 40 percent.
  • Cycle 3, 4, and 5: Increases to 45 to 53 percent.
  • Cycle 6: Increases even more, to 51 to 71 percent.

Jackpot! Women without fertility problems have a 51 to 71 percent chance of having a live baby, too.

Sixth-cycle IVF for women younger than 35 improves the odds even higher. In this age group, women under 35 enjoy a 65 to 86 percent likelihood of having the desired outcome of IVF therapy.

While IVF therapy can improve the odds of live-birth for women of all ages, according to Penzias, it doesn’t “reverse the biological clock.” Women 40 and older have about half the chance of giving birth to a live baby than women 35 and younger.

In some states, medical insurance covers the cost of infertility treatments, with varying degree. Discuss your desire for IVF treatment with both your fertility specialist and your insurance provider to see what options are available to you.

Source: Malizia, Beth A., M.D., et al. "Cumulative Live-Birth Rates after In Vitro Fertilization." New England Journal of Medicine 2009; 360:236-243. 15 Jan 2009. Web. Retrieved 13 Nov 2013.