Introduction 

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is one of several techniques available to help couples with fertility problems to have a baby.

During IVF, an egg is surgically removed from the woman's ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, now called an embryo, is then returned to the woman's womb to grow and develop.

Read more information about how IVF is performed.

IVF doesn't always result in pregnancy and it can be both physically and emotionally demanding. If you're going through IVF, you should be offered counselling to help you through the process.

Read more about support available during IVF.

Who can have IVF?

In 2013, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published new guidelines about who should have access to IVF treatment on the NHS in England and Wales.

Women under 40

According to the guidelines, women aged under 40 should be offered three cycles of IVF treatment on the NHS if:

  • you have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected intercourse for two years, or
  • you have not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination

However, if tests show IVF is the only treatment likely to help you get pregnant, you should be referred for IVF straight away.

If you turn 40 during treatment, the current cycle will be completed, but further cycles should not be offered.

Women aged 40 to 42

The guidelines also say women aged between 40 and 42 should be offered one cycle of IVF on the NHS if all of the following four criteria are met:

  • you have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected intercourse for two years, or you have not been able to get pregnant after 12 cycles of artificial insemination
  • you have never had IVF treatment before
  • you show no evidence of low ovarian reserve (this is when eggs in the ovary are low in number or low in quality)
  • you have been informed of the additional implications of IVF and pregnancy at this age

Again, if tests show IVF is the only treatment likely to help you get pregnant, you should be referred for IVF straight away.

Read information about getting started with IVF.

Success rate

The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment as well as the cause of the infertility (if it's known). Younger women are more likely to have healthier eggs, which increases the chances of success.

IVF isn't usually recommended for women above the age of 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low.

In 2010, the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth (the success rate) was:

  • 32.2% for women under 35  
  • 27.7% for women aged 35-37  
  • 20.8% for women aged 38-39   
  • 13.6% for women aged 40-42   
  • 5% for women aged 43-44 
  • 1.9% for women aged over 44

Read more information about the risks of IVF.

Funding and payment

NHS trusts across England and Wales are working to provide the same levels of service.

However, the provision of IVF treatment varies across the country and often depends on local CCG policies. Priority is often given to couples who don't already have children.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority regulates and licenses fertility clinics. You can find a fertility clinic using their search function.

If you're not eligible for NHS funding or you decide to pay for IVF, you can approach a private fertility clinic directly. Some clinics ask for a referral by your GP. On average, one cycle of IVF costs about £5000. However, this varies from clinic to clinic and there may be additional costs for medicines, consultations and tests.

Some clinics may offer a ‘package’ of treatment. During your discussions with the clinic, make sure you find out exactly what's included in the price. You may also be able to reduce the cost of IVF by donating some of your eggs or male partner's sperm for others to use.

Read information about private fertility treatment on the HFEA website.

If you're thinking about having IVF abroad, there are a number of issues you need to consider, including your safety and the standards of care you'll receive. The HFEA licenses and regulates clinics in the UK only. Clinics in other countries may or may not be regulated to local standards and regulations.

Read information about the issues and risks associated with fertility treatment abroad on the HFEA website.

Is IVF right for you?

Considering IVF? Find out if IVF gives you the best chance of getting pregnant, and how to get IVF on the NHS

Page last reviewed: 01/08/2013

Next review due: 01/08/2015