More than two decades ago,
in an experimental procedure called in vitro
fertilization (IVF), doctors joined a woman's
egg and a man's sperm in a glass dish in a laboratory.
For the first time, conception happened outside
a woman's body. Nine months later, the first
test-tube baby was born.
Today, assisted reproductive
technology (ART) refers not only to IVF but
also to several variations tailored to patients'
unique conditions. These procedures are usually
paired with more conventional therapies, such
as fertility drugs, to increase success rates.
Almost one out of every three cycles of ART
results in the birth of a baby.
But ART procedures are invasive
and expensive. Though no long-term health effects
have been linked to children born using ART
procedures, most doctors recommend reserving
ART as a last resort for having a baby.
Here's a rundown of
the main ART techniques:
• In vitro fertilization (IVF):
This is one of the most commonly used procedures.
Your eggs are combined with your partner's sperm
in a dish in a laboratory. Once fertilization
has occurred, the resulting embryos develop
for 3 to 5 days before being placed in your
• Intracytoplasmic sperm injection
(ICSI): One of your partner's sperm is placed
inside your egg with a microscopic needle, rather
than many sperm positioned close to the outside
of the egg, as in IVF, in a dish in a lab. Once
fertilization occurs, the resulting embryo is
placed in your uterus.
• Gamete intrafallopian transfer
(GIFT): Your eggs are combined with your partner's
sperm in a dish in a lab, then surgically injected
into your fallopian tubes using a laparoscope
or fiber-thin tube. Fertilization happens inside
your body, and the embryo implants naturally.
Although this procedure was once commonly practiced,
it's rarely used today because the success with
IVF is far greater on average.
• Zygote intrafallopian transfer
(ZIFT): As with GIFT, your eggs are mixed with
your partner's sperm in a dish in a lab, then
surgically placed in your fallopian tubes. But,
as with IVF, your doctor will wait until fertilization
occurs to place your embryos inside of you.
This procedure is no longer commonly performed
because it has a lower success rate than IVF.
• Donor egg or embryo: If you're
unable to conceive using your own eggs, an egg
donated by another woman is mixed with your
partner's sperm and the resulting embryo is
implanted in your uterus. This procedure also
can be done with a donated embryo or sperm.
• Surrogacy, or use of a gestational
carrier: Another woman carries your embryo,
or a donor embryo, to term and gives the baby
to you after birth.