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IVF options

Some women have less medicated forms of IVF, either because they can’t take fertility drugs or they don’t want to. This page introduces you to your options for having IVF with no or fewer fertility drugs. 

Who might have IVF with fewer or no fertility drugs?

You may be suitable for a less medicated form of IVF if you are unable to take fertility drugs. This may be for a medical cause such as if you're:

  • at risk of ovarian hyper-stimulation (OHSS) - a dangerous over-reaction to fertility drugs
  • a cancer patient and fertility drugs might make your condition worse. For example, breast cancer patients may be unable to take certain drugs that would increase their oestrogen levels if their cancer is sensitive to oestrogen.

You may also hold religious beliefs which mean you don’t want any leftover eggs or embryos to be destroyed or frozen.

What are my options for having a less medicated form of IVF?

The three main approaches to IVF that involve no or fewer drugs are natural cycle IVF, mild stimulation IVF and in vitro maturation (IVM). 

Natural cycle IVF

Natural cycle IVF involves no fertility drugs at all. The one egg you release as part of your normal monthly cycle is taken and mixed with sperm as with conventional IVF. You’ll then continue with IVF treatment as normal. As your ovaries aren’t being stimulated, you can try again sooner than with standard IVF if you wish.

You’re also less likely to have a multiple pregnancy (twins or triplets) than standard IVF and you’ll avoid all the risks and side effects of fertility drugs.

This treatment is not currently recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), the body which advises medical professionals.

Mild stimulation IVF

With mild stimulation IVF, you receive a lower dose of fertility drugs over a shorter period of time than with standard IVF. That reduces your treatment time by about two weeks and means you avoid a lot of the unpleasant side effects from the drugs. Although there are still some health risks from mild stimulation IVF they tend to be less common and less serious than with standard IVF.  

Scientist wearing a medical mask working in a lab

Less medicated forms of IVF tend to have fewer side effects.

In vitro maturation (IVM)

Normally in IVF you’ll be given a hormone to help your eggs mature before they’re removed and fertilised. In IVM your eggs are removed whilst they’re immature and allowed to mature in the lab, meaning you don’t have to take any hormones. You can only have IVM if you’re having intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a type of fertility treatment used where there’s a male infertility factor.

Because IVM is a new technique there have been very few births from IVM compared with other types of IVF treatment. This means we can’t be 100% confident of its safety until there have been more healthy births and researchers have been able to observe the development of children as they’ve grown up.

Laptop on a table displaying a graph

Birth rates can be much lower with more natural forms of IVF.

Does it affect your chances of success if you have no or fewer drugs?

Yes, if you don't take fertility drugs then success rates tend to be lower than for standard IVF and, in the case of natural IVF, are significantly lower. 

Before having any treatment, it's always worth talking to your clinic about the number of treatments they've performed in the last year and their birth rates for women in similar circumstances. 

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Review date: 10 January 2024