15 Things IVF Does to Your Body and How to Cope With Them

A woman lying on a couch

An IVF treatment cycle involves lots of medications, injections, and a couple of procedures, so you’re probably wondering what all that does to your body. As someone who has done almost 20 IVF cycles for more than a decade, I can tell you 15 things IVF does to your body and how to cope with them.

1. It Causes Your Ovaries to Be Stimulated

During an IVF treatment cycle, your ovaries will be stimulated by all the medications and injections that you’ll be taking, causing them to produce and grow more follicles (so they can release more eggs) than during a normal period. And when I say more, I mean a lot more. In a normal period, you’ll usually only have one dominant follicle, but during an IVF cycle you can have between 5 and 40!

With all those extra follicles, it’s only natural for some women (approximately 1 in 3) to feel bloated. It’s because your ovaries are! And the more follicles you have the more bloated you may feel.

In the majority of cases this will be mild bloating which is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. At this stage it won’t go away because you want the follicles to grow so that their eggs can be extracted.

33% of women doing IVF will experience mild Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). This is a sort of extreme version of bloating when your ovaries become hyper-stimulated, swell and leak fluid into the abdomen or belly.

There are actually three levels of OHSS: Mild, Moderate and Severe. While mild OHSS is not too much of a concern, moderate and severe OHSS (the latter experienced by 1% of women doing IVF) where the more unpleasant complications including damage to your ovaries can occur, is. That’s why it’s important to be aware of OHSS and its symptoms because you must contact your doctor if you think you have it so that it can be properly treated.

Personally, I have had OHSS a few times but only once was it more than moderate. Yes, I ended up in hospital, yes it was quite uncomfortable, no I didn’t have to undergo any unpleasant surgery to treat it. My body eventually returned to normal by itself. I just needed to be monitored in case I got worse and did need some unpleasant surgery to treat it.

You may also experience twinges of abdominal pain. Again, this is because your ovaries are being stimulated and stretched more than usual.

2. It Causes the Outside of Your Stomach to Feel Sore

This is because of all the injections you’ll be taking to stimulate the ovaries, block ovulation and then trigger it. One injection a day for 10 – 14 days and then possibly two per day for 3 – 4 days closer to the egg retrieval, all in your lower abdomen, will probably leave the outside of your stomach bruised and sore. With so many injections, your whole lower abdomen that’s covered in bruises may look and feel like a pin cushion and it could be difficult to find a new injection site easily.

Sometimes I need to spend a few minutes finding a non-bruised area for the next injection or deciding on the least bruised looking area to use that will hopefully hurt the least.

3. It Causes Your Endometrium to Be Strengthened

The medications that you’ll be taking also strengthen the endometrium – the lining of the uterus. This is done so that when the embryo(s) are returned to your uterus later on in the treatment cycle, they have a better chance of becoming successfully implanted.

If the ovary stimulation part of treatment seems worse than the strengthening of the endometrium part of treatment, it’s because it is.

4. It Can Give You Mood Swings

During an ordinary period, changes in hormone levels can cause mood swings. During an IVF treatment cycle, where you pump large amounts of hormones into your body, the greater level of hormone changes could cause you to have a greater level of mood swings. While the intensity of mood swings is obviously different for everyone some women have a rollercoaster of an emotional ride.

Some emotions you may experience are:

  • Sadness
  • Happiness
  • Depression
  • Being ecstatic
  • Fear
  • Nervous
  • Anything & everything in between

There may be ups, there may be downs, there may be a bit of crying or a lot of crying. Maybe it will push your husband to do more than usual. Maybe not. It’s complicated.

5. It Can Make You Feel Nauseous

This is another side effect of all the hormones you’re taking to stimulate the ovaries. The surge in hormones can make some women feel nauseous to an extent. It’s not a debilitating level of nausea that will prevent you from eating or drinking, but it’s there making you feel slightly queasy some of the time.

I personally feel the nausea has gotten worse the older I get – although it’s still manageable.

6. It Can Make You Feel More Tired Than Usual

From when you start taking the medications it’s very normal to feel quite tired and that remains so throughout the process.

This is not just because of all the medications you’re taking but because you’re so busy with doctor appointments, checkups, paperwork, medications, injections, blood tests, ultrasounds, IVF procedures, non-IVF procedures that will help optimize IVF procedures, and dealing with that surprise issue that someone has thought now would be the perfect time to spring on you. I’m talking about you … Katy.

A woman multi-tasking

Doing an IVF cycle can take up a lot of time and energy and even if you put a temporary freeze on your hobbies and spend less time with friends, you’re still probably going to carry on with your job and keep your partner and children.

IVF can therefore be stressful, tiring, draining and make you feel like collapsing into a heap and remaining there for the next six weeks. You can’t of course, because you’ve got to take your next medication in twenty minutes.

7. It Can Make Your Breasts Feel Tender

I tend to experience breast tenderness quite a bit, sometimes even to the point of pain although it doesn’t happen consistently throughout the treatment cycle. It ebbs and flows at different times.

8. It Can Cause Hot Flashes

This is where you get a sudden spike in temperature in the upper part of your body. It can occur anywhere from very occasionally such as once in two weeks to even a few times a day.

This doesn’t happen to all women and is something I’ve never had. The closest I’ve come is when at times my skin feels more sensitive to temperatures and pressures than when I’m not pumping myself full of hormones.

9. It Extracts All Those Eggs

When the eggs are fully grown, they will be extracted in a special procedure known as egg retrieval where a needle is inserted through the back wall of the vagina into your ovaries. The eggs are then sucked into the needle.

It’s not a complex procedure at all usually taking under 30 minutes, and not requiring you to stay in the clinic or hospital for more than a few hours, but it’s also not pleasant to have your ovaries punctured by a needle which is why it’s done under anesthetic and you can feel a little sore for a few days after.

10. It Returns Your Embryo(s) to Your Uterus

After the eggs have been fertilized in the lab, they’re transferred back to your uterus.

This is done by placing the embryo(s) into a catheter which is then inserted into your uterus where they’re deposited.

This is not a painful procedure and there are no painful aftereffects. You will be awake and alert the entire time. At most you may experience some discomfort having a speculum inserted into your vagina and possibly some very mild cramping but that is quite rare.

11. It Can Make You Pregnant

It’s no guarantee but sometimes, IVF can cause you to become pregnant. Congratulations! All those medications, injections, swollen ovaries, mood swings, extreme exhaustion and ruined relationships (just kidding), were all worth it.

If you thought what IVF does to your body was bad, wait until you see what pregnancy does!

12. It Can Make Bloating Worse During an IVF Pregnancy

If you become pregnant via IVF, it may take longer for any bloating due to the swollen ovaries to completely disappear and in some cases, it can actually get worse before it gets better.

Other than that, an IVF pregnancy doesn’t do anything more to your body than a regular pregnancy.

13. It Can Make You Feel All These Things a 2nd Time When Your Body Resets Itself

If you don’t become pregnant during an IVF treatment cycle, (firstly sorry and secondly) you may feel all these things a second time as your body resets itself.

After finding out you’re not pregnant, you’ll stop taking your IVF medications and within 3 – 10 days you’ll have a period. It may be heavier than usual, but that’s because your body is doing extra work to reset itself. The ovaries will return to their normal size and all the hormones will be flushed from your system.

You may experience mood swings, nausea, tiredness, breast tenderness and hot flashes during this time too. It won’t be as bad as the first time when your body was being pumped full of hormones because they’re now being removed from your body, but because there’s a change in your hormones you may feel some of these things to a greater degree than if you hadn’t played this increase and then decrease your hormones game.

By the time you’ve stopped bleeding or thereabouts, your hormones should have rebalanced themselves.

14. It Can Make You Emotionally Stressed

Girl sitting by herself hunched in pain

Doing an IVF treatment cycle can be emotionally stressful too. By emotional stress I don’t just mean the mood swings that are caused by the hormones you’re taking, though they’re quite enough by themselves, but additional stresses too.

For example, it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the treatment cycle. As mentioned earlier, there’s simply a lot to do and a lot of balls to juggle: doctor appointments, checkups, paperwork, medications, injections, blood tests, ultrasounds and IVF procedures.

You may also feel a level of nervousness and anxiety because despite the fact that you have a whole team of experts looking after you with years of meticulously done scientific research to back them up and more than 8 million babies born via IVF across the world, at the end of the day a lot of weird stuff is being done to your body.

Then there’s the matter of failure. It’s always at the back of your mind, except during the 2-week-wait between the embryo transfer and the blood test to see if you’re pregnant, when it’s at the front of your mind. If you don’t become pregnant it can be hugely disappointing and stressful, especially when you consider all the time, effort, bodily changes and expense that goes into one treatment cycle.

15. It Leaves You in the Dark About Long Term Effects on the Body

Although IVF has been practiced for over 40 years, there’s not much information regarding its long-term effects.

A not entirely short-term study, following women from 1-15 years after IVF treatment, showed no link to ovarian cancer and a medium-term study, following women 21 years after IVF treatment, showed that it’s not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This is good to know, but obviously we would like even longer-term information.

Without sufficient information about the long-term impact to our bodies, I just try to be on top of my health in general and do what research I can. If IVF has taught me anything, it’s that you always have to be on top of your health and that you are your best advocate!

What You Can Do to Minimize the Effects of IVF on Your Body

You can take steps to minimize the effects of IVF on your body. Some things will be more useful to some women than others, and there are probably more things that you can do, but this is what I have done. Feel free to add your own things – and then let me know.

Gather as Much Information as You Can

Having as much information as possible can reduce a lot of stress and be a huge time saver.

To start off with this means learning as much as you can about the IVF process. That way you’ll know what’s more important, what’s less important and what’s about to happen to you which will reduce much of the stress you feel when you’re wondering why you feel a certain way or are having another test or ultrasound. It may even help you to organize your day better, saving you some time.

It will also allow you to understand what the doctors are saying and prevent any confusion and miscommunications. Sometimes doctors forget that we’re not medical professionals specializing in fertility and that what’s obvious to them is not at all obvious to us, and while you should ask questions and they should answer them, in practice their patience is limited.

Information gathering also means knowing the processes of your health insurance and of your hospital or clinic too.

When it comes to your health insurance you could well be entering a maze of seemingly random and utterly absurd rules and regulations. Don’t complain, don’t fight them and certainly don’t point out how unnecessary, repetitive and stupid they are. They don’t like that at all.

Just find out what you have to do, double and triple check the instructions so that you at least have a chance of getting it right the first time but be aware they’ve probably got something colossally wrong which they’ll later blame on you. This awareness is important because when they do ask you for that form that they definitely 100% told you was absolutely crucial so they couldn’t possibly have forgotten to tell you, you’ll be less likely to drive your fist through the closest wall.

When it comes to your hospital or clinic, they will have their own procedures, systems and policies. Once again, knowing and working with them can save you a lot of time, effort and stress.

Deal With the Unpleasant Side Effects

A woman relaxing with her feet up and a drink

There are several things you can do to deal with the unpleasant side effects of IVF treatment:

For the Bloating

To help ease the bloating, drink plenty of fluids as that will flush the liquid you’re retaining, eat nourishing high-protein food because foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar can make the bloating worse and if you experience a lot of pain, take pain killers but not anti-inflammatory drugs as that could interfere with your medication.

Also, get plenty of rest and avoid strenuous exercise otherwise you could make the bloating worse.

At the end of the treatment the bloating will disappear by itself. There’s nothing you can do to speed up this process, but it will start to ease when your body resets itself as mentioned, when you start your next period.

For more information on IVF bloating and how to cope with it see here.

For the Injections

To help you cope with a bruised and sore stomach use ice before and after the injection (with before meaning before the alcohol swab). This numbs the area and helps reduce the risk of inflammation.

Also, when administering the injections, alternate between the left and right sides of the abdomen if you can remember, with all the injections you’re taking, which side you did last time.

For Side Effects Caused by the Extra Hormones

Resting, a healthy diet and exercise is the best way to handle all the side effects of the hormones. That means the mood swings, the nausea, the tiredness, the breast tenderness and the hot flashes.

For breast tenderness it may also help to wear comfy, loose-fitting clothing and underwear, and to avoid any strenuous activity that results in contact with your chest.

Plan as Much as You Can Before Treatment

Planning can help take off a lot of the pressure and make things much easier.

First of all, you can plan when to do your IVF cycle. If you have a big event coming up or are tremendously busy at work, then you can and I recommend should, postpone starting treatment until things are a bit quieter.

Secondly, check out any work options that may be available. This differs by country and even within one country, but I’ve worked for companies that actually have a policy for women doing IVF treatment. In my case this was several paid IVF days off work up to three times per year that didn’t come out of your regular sick leave and while that may not be everything you need, it’s still tremendously helpful.

I know you probably don’t want to tell your boss about something so private but for me it was a good idea. It was quite embarrassing – as expected, but not the most embarrassing thing I did during IVF treatment. Also as expected.

Thirdly, since IVF adds to what’s probably an already busy schedule you may want to plan for extra housekeeping or childcare assistance over this time. If you’re happy to tell your family and friends that you’re doing IVF you can always ask them for help. A support network is of immeasurable value during this time for practical help and having someone to talk to. Just make sure they’re not the kind of person who’s help is more of a hindrance.

Lastly, let your partner know that you won’t be feeling your normal self for a while. Let him know that you won’t be able to do as much as usual around the house. Assure him that this is only temporary and that you’ll soon return to being the person he knows and loves, but that if he doesn’t help you out during this time and appreciate every single thing you’re going through, then he can expect far worse in the future.

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