Does Egg Retrieval Hurt? All the Pain & Discomfort Involved

A woman holding her stomach in pain

Egg retrieval is the only part of the IVF cycle that’s minor surgery, so if you’re about to have yours it’s only natural to be wondering whether it will hurt. As someone who has had five egg retrievals, I can tell you my experience of all the pains and discomforts involved.

The Egg retrieval procedure itself doesn’t hurt because it’s done under general anesthetic. However, afterwards you may experience some vaginal soreness, abdominal cramping, spotting and bloating which can be mildly painful but you should be able to resume normal activity within a few hours and be fully recovered within three days.

In this article I’ll explain why egg retrieval hurts and all the pains and discomforts you may experience. I’ll also talk about the usual length of time it takes to recover from them and some other more peripheral pains and discomforts that can occur.

Why Does Egg Retrieval Hurt?

The reason why egg retrieval hurts is because a needle punctures the wall of your vagina, then your ovaries and then your follicles, so that the eggs and the fluid within can be sucked out. This is done several times for all your follicles in both of your ovaries.

Let me elaborate on that.

An egg retrieval is carried out as follows: A speculum is used to open your vagina and a thin aspiration needle (a needle that sucks out fluid – for fellow laymen who aren’t aware of precise medical terminology) attached to a vaginal ultrasound probe (even if you’re a layman, if you’ve started IVF, you’ll know exactly what this is) is inserted.

The doctor uses the ultrasound to see the ovaries and the follicles. The needle then pierces through your vaginal wall, an ovary and into the first egg follicle. The egg and fluid within is then sucked out.

This process is repeated with all the follicles of one ovary and then with all the follicles of the other ovary until all the follicles are drained.

Basically, it’s the regular vaginal ultrasound that you’ve been having until now to check your follicular growth with the extra step of a needle puncturing the vaginal wall, ovaries and follicles to suck out the eggs.

This would be quite painful, but you’re placed under general anesthetic, so you’ll be asleep for the entire procedure and you won’t feel any pain whatsoever.

However, this does mean that once the anesthetic wears off there may be some pain and discomfort from the aforementioned puncturing of the vaginal walls, ovaries and follicles and having the eggs and fluid sucked out.

The pains and discomforts that you may experience due to the egg retrieval process are:

  • Vaginal soreness
  • Cramping
  • Spotting
  • Bloating

The first three pains and discomforts make sense when you remember that a speculum was used to hold your vagina open and a needle has just punctured your ovaries, it’s the bloating that doesn’t make sense because it’s caused by having more eggs than usual so you would expect that once they’re extracted, you wouldn’t have that problem anymore.

However, once the eggs are removed, blood rushes in to fill their place, so your ovaries remain enlarged, and you can feel bloated. In fact, if you’ve been feeling mildly bloated since you started stimulating your ovaries (which is perfectly normal), you may feel even more bloated and swollen after the egg retrieval (again perfectly normal).

How Bad Does Egg Retrieval Hurt?

A pain meter

Obviously pain and discomfort are different for everyone so what I say will be on the assumption that I’m normal (my husband has wisely informed me that I am) and that other women are within a reasonable range of difference to myself.

Overall, in my experience an egg retrieval is a 4 on a 1 – 10 scale of pain. That means it’s a pain that’s present and somewhat irritating, but not so bad that it’s debilitating or even preventing you from going about your day.

The vaginal soreness is minimal – a 2-3 on the scale of 1-10. It feels like an achy pain towards the entrance of the vagina. The stomach cramps and bloating sort of go together and feel like a mild stomachache in the stomach and pelvic area. it can be a 4-6 on the scale of 1-10. Spotting is obviously not painful. It’s just an unhelpful side-effect of the procedure.

Another indication of how relatively mild the pain of an egg-retrieval procedure is, is that most women can manage the pain with painkillers and for some of my egg retrievals I did not need any at all. Additionally, the fact that recovery takes only a few days is another indicator that the pain of the egg retrieval is not that bad.

On the other hand, it’s not a massage. It’s not even your husband volunteering to do all the household chores while you sit with your feet up for just one Sunday a year. It’s a minor medical procedure that does involve some pain and discomfort.

How Long Does Egg Retrieval Pain Last?

The pains and discomforts of egg retrieval last for up to 3 days after which the vaginal soreness, cramping and spotting should have disappeared. The bloating will last a little longer because the egg retrieval was not its cause, but something that made it worse and should completely disappear by the time you start your next period.

The truth is that recovery from the egg retrieval procedure works in stages.

After the egg retrieval procedure, you’ll have to stay in the hospital or clinic for an hour or two (or more if there are administrative delays – but that’s a completely different problem) to ensure that nothing untoward is going on and that the grogginess from the anesthetic wears off.

By then you should have recovered enough to be able to go home. You should still have someone accompany you (in some hospitals or clinics this is a requirement, but I’ve seen some ladies come and go without any support) because you still won’t be 100% yourself.

You might want to take it easy for the rest of the day, but by the next day you should be more or less back to normal, although all the above pains and discomforts won’t have completely disappeared. The soreness and cramping and tenderness should only last for about three days and some bloating can remain until the start of your next period – unless you become pregnant in which case the bloating can take a couple of weeks longer to completely disappear.

While your body will recover by itself, you can of course help alleviate any pain or discomfort by resting, drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding strenuous activity. You can also take pain killers but not anti-inflammatory drugs as that could interfere with your medication.

For me, I usually manage to cope without pain medication. I don’t say this to brag but to emphasize that as my pain-threshold is not abnormal, you will in all probability find that the egg-retrieval procedure will not hurt that much. I also found that it worked really well to rest on that first day, as much as possible.

Of course, if the bloating and pain increases or you are having any other issues you should contact your doctor immediately.

Peripheral Pains and Discomforts of Egg Retrieval

There are other pains and discomforts that can occur during egg retrieval that are very peripheral and due to the fact that you are having minor surgery.

The first are those due to the anesthetic. Apart from the obvious grogginess and disorientation that causes, some women can have some slightly worse negative reactions including:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

When it comes to fatigue, while this can be caused by the anesthetic it can also be caused by the IVF treatment cycle, which causes fatigue via the hormones you’re taking and all the related stress. It can also be a bit of both. Yes, it’s not easy to differentiate between the pains and discomforts of egg retrieval when you’re already in pain and discomfort from the IVF treatment cycle in general.

Then there’s the fact that due to the anesthetic you’re not allowed to eat or drink for eight hours before the egg retrieval process and for a short while after. And as these kinds of things are not known for running super on time (see earlier comment re administrative delays), you may end up quite some time without any food or drink.

You’re also hooked up to an IV during the egg retrieval procedure for both hydration and medication to be administered. You’ll only see the IV bags after you wake up from the anesthetic, but the cannula will be inserted into your arm or hand (if you’re like me and they can’t find good veins in the arm easily), prior to the procedure, which can be another somewhat unpleasant part of the process you’ll need to contend with.  

And finally, maybe it’s just me but I have a general sense of annoyance as I’m waiting hungry and thirsty and a little tense, about to go under general anesthetic so that I’ll only have mild pain and discomfort for a few days after the surgery, all so that I can provide my part of the material used to make a baby, while my husband is in another room providing his and having a much more pleasant time doing so.

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