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Is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Painful?

If you’re considering fertility treatments, you may have questions about what to expect. According to the Mayo Clinic, IVF is the most effective form of assisted reproductive technology (ART). So it makes sense that those experiencing infertility have questions about the treatment. One thing many women ask fertility doctors is, “Is in vitro fertilization (IVF) painful?” 

Certain parts of the process may cause some pain or discomfort, but you should never be in an extreme amount of pain. If you do have severe pain, then it could be a sign of a complication. However, it should be noted that the complications associated with IVF are rare and can usually be treated effectively.

Each woman has a slightly different response to the IVF process so some aspects may be painful for some women and not painful for others. 

Ovarian Stimulation

Ovarian stimulation is the first part of the IVF process. You will be prescribed injectable medications that will stimulate your ovaries to mature multiple eggs during a cycle (during normal ovulation only one egg is matured). These medications contain hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

While you take the medication, your doctor will monitor you with blood tests and ultrasound to determine when ovulation should be induced. The ovulation stimulation process usually takes 8-14 days. 

Self-injecting the fertility drugs that stimulate the ovaries has the potential to cause pain, but most women say it is more uncomfortable than painful. The needles used for these injections are very thin and don’t hurt. If you have an aversion to needles, this might be a difficult part of the process for you, but having your partner or a friend with you can provide comfort.

Sometimes women experience bloating and other unpleasant side effects from the fluctuation in hormones caused by the injections but these side effects are not usually severe or painful. Side effects include:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Fluid retention and bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

Ovulation Induction

After your doctor determines that your ovaries have sufficiently matured the eggs, they will give you another medication to induce ovulation and release the eggs. This trigger shot usually contains human chorionic gonadotropin (HGC), a hormone that will help the eggs complete maturation before ovulation. The shot is usually given 36 hours before the egg retrieval.

The trigger shot may cause side effects, but usually, women just experience some temporary irritation at the injection site. 

Egg Retrieval

During egg retrieval, you will be given pain medication and sedated, so the procedure itself should not be painful at all. After the procedure, you may experience some mild cramping or feelings of pressure. Pain can usually be treated with an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen. However, your doctor can prescribe a stronger medication if needed. Recovery after the retrieval procedure is generally quick and you should be able to get back to your routine after a day or two of rest. 

Embryo Transfer

After the eggs have been retrieved and fertilized in the lab, embryos will be selected to be transferred to the uterus. The transfer has the most potential for pain. The embryo is inserted directly in the uterus with a syringe inserted through a vaginal catheter. You won’t feel anything from the syringe, but you will feel pressure from the catheter. Many women compare this to the feeling of the speculum used during a Pap test. Some women aren’t bothered by it and some women find it a bit painful. Recovery from the transfer should also be fairly quick.

So back to the original question: is in vitro fertilization (IVF) painful? It depends on the individual woman. Most women would describe what they go through as discomfort rather than pain. And it’s almost universally agreed that all the discomfort in the world is worth it when you successfully conceive. 

If you have questions about fertility treatments like IVF, Laurel Fertility Care in the California Bay Area provides individualized, patient-centered care. We always want to do what’s best for you physically, mentally, and financially. If you’re ready to start your fertility journey, call (415) 673-9199 to make an appointment.