Most fertility clinics publish success rate of fertility treatments without taking into account the number of IVF cycles patients went through to achieve either pregnancy or live birth.

Since the ultimate goal of couples at fertility clinics is to welcome a baby into their family, the live birth rate is what really matters.

However, there is currently no standard for determining the success rate of fertility treatments. Therefore clinics, when measuring success, often do not take into account the number of cycles patients undergo. This creates a misleading perception of the time and cost common treatments like IVF entail.


What is an IVF ‘cycle’?

If you or your partner are considering IVF or ICSI, you’re probably wondering about what an IVF cycle involves and how long it would take.

The beginning of an IVF cycle is marked by when a woman starts taking medication and administer injection to prepare her body for the upcoming IVF cycle. The medication and injection will contain reproductive hormones to encourage the ovary to produce multiple eggs during the ovulation cycle instead of the usual number of one.

These eggs are retrieved from the ovary and fertilised in a specialised laboratory to produce embryos. This process can take up to 6 days as the embryos require time to grow.

Matured embryos are then transferred to and implanted in the woman’s body with the intention of achieving pregnancy. This marks the end of an IVF cycle which generally takes about 2 weeks.

Age is the Number One Factor Contributing to Success.

The number of IVF cycles required to achieve live birth is affected by various factors. The biggest factor is the woman’s age.

Statistics are obtained from Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) – National Summary Report 2016. Figure shows live birth as a percentage of number of fresh embryo cycles.

In 2016,

  • A woman on average needs to undergo more than 2 cycles to have a baby.
  • 37% of all cycles resulted in a live birth. (including frozen embryo transfers)^
  • 40% of women had a live birth. (either fresh or frozen cycles)*

^Multiple embryos are commonly retrieved from a single IVF cycle

*This number includes patients who discontinued treatment after the first cycle as well as patients who had multiple cycles. Percentage is calculated by dividing total number of live births by total number of patients who started treatment in 2016. 

However, these numbers do not display the vast difference in success rate amongst age groups.

  • Women who were younger than 35 had a 41.3% live birth rate using fresh embryos. This number increases to 45% after frozen embryos are used in subsequent cycles. Women from the 35-37 age group had 31.7% and 41.9% respectively.
  • For women aged 38-40, live birth during the primary cycle was 21.6% per cycle and 36.9% for subsequent frozen cycles.
  • For women aged 41-42, live birth percentages were 11.7% and 32.1% respectively.
  • As expected, the numbers are much lower for the >42 age group: 3.6% and 24.2% respectively.
  • Evidently, the number of cycles patients need to go through before achieving success varies greatly with age.

Besides age, there are also several other factors that you should consider:

  • Fertility laboratory affiliated with the clinic
  • Type of fertility treatment; for example, IVF vs ICSI (see what the difference is here)
  • Quality of sperm used in IVF

Success Rate Does Not Tell the Whole Story

When comparing clinics, it is common for patients to assess their suitability based on success rates. It is difficult to avoid this mistake because in the end, higher success rate means few cycles which leads to lower cost. However, these statistics are average values which are influenced by the type of patients a clinic chooses to treat, including their age and diagnosis. Therefore, before choosing a suitable clinic, you should consider several other factors.

You can seek a more personalized estimate of cycle number and cost by sending an enquiry to clinics of interest through our search platform .