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A female IVF specialist debunks top 10 myths about IVF

In vitro fertilization, otherwise known as IVF or test-tube baby, is a type of assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment that involves combining a woman’s egg and man’s sperm in a lab to form an embryo. The very first successful delivery of an infant conceived through IVF was recorded in 1978 – since then, this procedure has helped countless couples around the world who have struggled to conceive naturally.  

Despite its achievements in human reproduction, IVF wasn’t easily accepted during its early days and still has some stigma surrounding it today. For example, some couples feel embarrassed about resorting to artificial means to conceive and worry that their “test tube baby” will not be as healthy as a naturally conceived one. To add fuel to fire, there are also countless myths on the internet surrounding this method of reproduction. 

As a female IVF specialist in Singapore who has witnessed the birth of hundreds of IVF babies, such misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. IVF or not, what’s most important is the bond you share with your little one during and after pregnancy.

In this article, allow me to hopefully once and for all debunk some of the most common myths surrounding IVF in Singapore.

MYTH 1: IVF is not safe.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the initial days, without the recent advances in technology and know-how, IVF could result in serious risks and complications in some patients. Medications used were of animal origin and not well standardized. The main risk was associated with an over-response or allergy to the medications administered. 

However today it has become exceedingly safe. In the recent years there have been numerous advances in the medications – most are now synthetically manufactured and have a greatly improved safety profile. 

The overall safety of a treatment relies heavily on the decisions made in its administration.1 Having a doctor that is well-versed in this treatment can greatly contribute to avoiding or lowering the chances of complications occurring. 

MYTH 2: IVF is recommended only for women who have challenges with conceiving a child.

Women are usually the ones blamed whenever talks of infertility are brought to the table. To set the record straight: infertility affects women and men alike. 

Infertility in women can be caused by various factors that affect the function of their ovaries, fallopian, and uterus; these include conditions like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, tubal blockage and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). 

In men, testicular and ejaculatory dysfunction are most common but there could be rare genetic or hormonal disorders responsible as well. These can be detected via a semen analysis and blood tests. 

I highly recommend for both partners to get fertility assessments if they are planning to conceive a child, as early detection of issues can make the treatment simpler and more successful.

Technology has now enabled couples with a family history of genetic disorders to opt for IVF and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis of the embryos to prevent passing down the genetic condition to their children. 

MYTH 3: IVF treatment can be administered without an age limit

IVF is more popular in women who are in their late 30s to early 40s, but certainly can help younger women who have challenges in conceiving. Previously, the Singapore government had set the age limit for IVF as maximum 45 years old. This limit was lifted on 1 January 2020.2

While we are on this topic, it is essential to note that age plays the most crucial role in the determining the outcomes of an IVF treatment. Statistically, IVF is most successful for women in their 20s and 30s. However there are many factors that influence the success rate of IVF – couples who wish to go through this procedure must be thoroughly evaluated by a doctor and a assessed for success rates as well.

Patient Doctor consultation

MYTH 4: IVF is always successful on the first try.

In the field of reproduction, there are no guarantees that a patient can get pregnant immediately in the first try. A report concerning women in Singapore has highlighted that an average of two assisted reproductive technique (ART) cycles are needed for them to achieve a successful pregnancy. Evidence however shows that the success rate of ART decreases with maternal age and hence couples are urged to start trying to start a family sooner than later.3

MYTH 5: IVF can cause multifetal pregnancy.

Traditionally, multiple embryos were transferred during an IVF cycle in an attempt to increase the success of conception, and this resulted in multiple pregnancies. Having multiple pregnancies can result in complications for both the mother and child. In Singapore, the recommended maximum number of embryos to be transferred is two for most patients.4 Recent advances in IVF technology have however enabled us to reduce the number of embryos transferred, significantly reducing the risk of multiple pregnancy and other complications. Most good IVF labs and doctors today will encourage patients to go for a single embryo transfer as this practice is safe and difference in the success rates is negligible.

MYTH 6: IVF babies are more prone to develop abnormalities and complications with health.

There seems to be a conception that IVF babies have higher risks with health complications and disabilities just because they were formed in an “unnatural” way. In a large study, the absolute risk for singletons of being born with a major malformation was 3.4% among ART children vs. 2.9% among children spontaneously conceived. They concluded that the relative risk of being born with a major congenital malformation between ART conceived and spontaneously conceived children was similar.5

MYTH 7: IVF is only for rich people. 

IVF is a complicated treatment and hence it does come with a hefty price tag. You can expect to shell out anywhere from SGD10,000 to 20,000 for a single cycle. The variation is mostly due to the difference in the dose of the medications used. 

If you are a Singapore citizen, you can get subsidies provided by the Ministry of Health. The subsidy given by the government is a great help in cutting costs of IVF treatments, but it is only available in public hospitals. Expect to wait longer times to set an appointment to be on a wait list for treatments.

Another route that Singapore citizens and PRs can take to curb the costs of IVF is by using Medisave. This is best if you would like to get treatment without having to wait in line to book a schedule at public hospitals and instead, make a direct appointment through private clinics.

MYTH 8: All IVF clinics in Singapore are the same

The process of undergoing IVF treatments, whether done locally or in another country, is basically the same regardless of the clinic you choose. However, the quality of your experience may vary greatly. At ACRM, we have a team of 2 female IVF specialists and embryologists dedicated to providing the best care. We also have an in-house IVF centre that consists of a fully-equipped IVF lab, operating theatre and cryostorage facilities. We endeavor to provide an empathetic holistic experience for our patients going for all forms of ART. 

MYTH 9: IVF will need patients to make drastic changes to their current lifestyle.

Generally speaking, a person’s habit or way of life can have a positive or negative effect on health. However, when trying to get pregnant, this is all the more important. A recent review found that factors like body weight, vitamin/iodine intake, alcohol/caffeine consumption and other lifestyle factors like exercise can greatly influence an individual’s chance of success at fertility treatment.6

Simply put, to optimize the chances of achieving a successful outcome of your IVF treatment, it is best to have a healthy lifestyle for at least 3 to 4 months prior to starting the treatment – all the way through to your pregnancy and delivery!

MYTH 10: IVF can be administered to all women wishing to conceive and deliver a child in Singapore.

The Singapore government only allows married couples to undergo IVF or any treatment considered as assisted reproductive technology (ART).

References

  1. Nardelli, Alexa A., et al. “Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs): Evaluation of evidence to support public policy development.” Reproductive Health, vol. 11, no. 76, 2014, p. 1. Reproductive Health Journal, https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4755-11-76.

  2. Ministry of Health – Singapore. “More Support for Childhood Preventive Healthcare and Fertility Treatments.” Ministry of Health – Singapore, 28th August 2019, https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/more-support-for-childhood-preventive-healthcare-and-fertility-treatments. Accessed 29 October 2021.

  3. Ministry of Health Singapore. “SPEECH BY MS RAHAYU MAHZAM, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, AT THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH COMMITTEE OF SUPPLY DEBATE 2021, ON FRIDAY 5 MARCH 2021.” Ministry of Health Singapore, 2021, https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/peech-by-ms-rahayu-mahzam-parliamentary-secretary-for-health-at-the-ministry-of-health-committee-of-supply-debate-2021-on-friday-5-march-2021. Accessed 31 October 2021.

  4. Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction. “Maximum Number of Embryos to be Transferred in Assisted Reproductive Technologies cycle: Ethics Opinion.” Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences Vols. 1 to 14; 2008 to 2021, vol. 11, no. Apr-Jun 2018, 2018, pp. 93-95. NCBI, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6094539/.

  5. Henningsen AA, et al. Trends over time in congenital malformations in live-born children conceived after assisted reproductive technology. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2018 Jul;97(7):816-823. doi: 10.1111/aogs.13347. Epub 2018 Apr 14. PMID: 29572867.

  6. Anderson, Kirsty, et al. “Lifestyle factors in people seeking infertility treatment – A review.” Lifestyle factors in people seeking infertility treatment – A review, vol. 50, no. 1, 2010, pp. 8-20. Obstetrics and Gynaecology, https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1479-828X.2009.01119.x. Accessed 2 November 2021.