How Many IVF Cycles Does It Take to Get Pregnant?

Arrows showing the IVF cycle

IVF treatment does not guarantee pregnancy which is why many women do multiple cycles. Since repeated treatment is not pleasant, one of the things that’s asked is, how many IVF cycles does it take to become pregnant?

The probability of pregnancy after 1, 2 and 3 IVF treatment cycles varies with age:

Age1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles
20 – 2433% – 49%54% – 70%61% – 78%
25 – 2952% – 56%72% – 75%80% – 84%
30 – 3446% – 55%63% – 74%75% – 83%
35 – 3921% – 41%32% – 58%45% – 71%
40 – 444% – 16%7% – 25%12% – 37%
45 – 500% – 2%0% – 4%1% – 8%

The probability of pregnancy after 1, 2 and 3 IVF treatment cycles for every age between 20 and 50 appears below. We’ll also look at how weight, the eggs used, and previous births can drastically alter these numbers and what you can do to increase your chances of becoming pregnant.

The Number of IVF Cycles It Takes to Get Pregnant

The percentages in the above table come from a larger data set of numbers that I collected using the IVF success estimator on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Before showing you the full data set, remember that this is only an estimate based on all the information the CDC has gathered. New advances and methods and your own personal health and circumstances means these number are … well only an estimate.

Below is a scatter graph showing for all ages between 20 and 50, the chance of a live birth for one cycle of IVF treatment, the cumulative chance of a live birth for two cycles of IVF treatment and the cumulative chance of a live birth for three cycles of IVF treatment.

Graph showing the chance of a live birth with IVF treatment by age

For those of you who prefer to see this information in table form, I have included an extremely long one next. I’ll see you at the other end.

Age1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles

As you can see, age is a hugely importance factor when it comes to how many IVF cycles it takes to become pregnant.

Those aged 27 – 30 have the best chances of becoming pregnant. 55% or more in their first cycle, 74% or more in their second cycle and 84% or more in their third cycle.

Those aged 25 and 26 and those aged 31 and 32 have the second-best chances of becoming pregnant. More than 50% in their first cycle, 70% or more in their second cycle and 80% or more in their third cycle.

Between the ages of 33 and 37 there is quite a drop in the chances of becoming pregnant but it’s still more than 40% in two IVF cycles and more than 60% in three. After the age of 40 there’s a further drop where the chance of pregnancy in 3 cycles becomes quite unlikely.

Of course, some women need more than three cycles to become pregnant. A new study from the UK found that stopping after only three cycles of IVF could be a mistake, as there was a good chance of becoming pregnant after six or even nine cycles. 

If these percentages dismay you, bear in mind the following points:

First, the probability of conceiving naturally is only 15% – 25% per month (10% if the woman is over 40). IVF can double that probability. When trying to conceive naturally 50% of couples will be successful after six months and 85% after a year. Once again, cumulative IVF probabilities for the second and third cycle, match or exceed this number in many cases.

The point is that trying to conceive naturally is also no guarantee of pregnancy and because IVF at least assures fertilization if not implantation whereas trying to conceive naturally you have no idea if even fertilization will happen, IVF increases your chance for pregnancy, even if it’s less than half as fun.

Secondly, IVF success rates have improved over time. The chance of a live birth after 1 cycle was 5% in 1990, 22% in 1995, 27.5% in 2005 and 32.5 in 2015 so things have improved dramatically.

And thirdly, if you’re not looking forward to the possibility of having to do three IVF cycles, you may find some consolation in the fact that the second and third cycles don’t have to be full ones.

Full cycles are where your ovaries are stimulated, the eggs are extracted and fertilized and then transferred to your uterus. Partial cycles are when there’s no need to stimulate your ovaries and extract eggs because in a previous full IVF cycle more eggs were extracted than used, so the remainder were frozen for future use.

If you have frozen eggs, then a partial IVF cycle will consist merely of the embryo transfer. You’ll still have to take some hormones to help get your uterine lining ready – there’s no escape from that, but such cycles are much easier than full ones.

Funny story if you’re not me. When I had my very first IVF cycle a whopping 40 eggs were extracted! I was pleased because that meant if this cycle didn’t work at least I wouldn’t need an egg extraction the next time around. However, somehow none of the extra eggs ended up being frozen due to a mistake in the lab. To change the subject completely, if a fertility clinic begs you not to leave because of a mistake they refuse to take responsibility for, don’t feel bad in the slightest.

Should You Take a Break Between IVF Cycles

According to research, it makes no difference to the chances of becoming pregnant, whether IVF treatment cycles are done back-to-back or with a break between them.

So it’s up to you, but in making that decision you’ll want to consider the following:

Your Physical Needs

After an IVF cycle your ovaries maybe recovering from being stimulated. You may want to wait for the inflammation to completely subside and your ovaries to return to normal before stimulating them again (unless you’re doing a cycle with frozen embryos).

Also, the additional hormones you pumped into your body are being flushed from your system. Even if you’re doing a frozen embryo cycle, you’ll still be taking some hormones. You might want to wait until your body’s hormones rebalance before throwing them out of whack again.

Your Emotional Needs

Because there’s a lot that happens in one IVF cycle (and if you’re considering whether to have another cycle straight away this includes failure) it can be emotionally stressful, and a break from all that can be helpful. Unless you’re older and worried about the clock ticking in which case taking a break from IVF could be even more stressful.

Your Financial Situation

Depending on how your IVF treatment is being funded you may want to take some time before starting another cycle. Insurance plans may cover most of your treatment costs but there are some expenses they do not cover. A break may help you arrange your finances better.

A woman relaxing in front of a scenic mountain view

Other Factors That Influence the Number of IVF Cycles You Need to Do

Apart from age there are three other factors that influence the number of IVF cycles you need to do to become pregnant:

  1. Your weight
  2. The eggs used – yours or a donor’s
  3. Previous births

1. Your Weight

While the chances of becoming pregnant in 1, 2, and 3 cycles are the same for those defined by the CDC as having a normal weight (100lb – 140lb) and being overweight (140lb – 170lb), once you fall into the category of obese (over 170lb) the numbers change. This is still not too much of a problem because the percentages only start decreasing at around 200lb and then only by a maximum of 3%, but at about 230lb, the percentages decrease more problematically and by 300lb the difference is drastic.

Here is a table that compares the probability of pregnancy after 1, 2 and 3 IVF cycles between those with a normal weight (on the left) and those who weigh 300lb (on the right):

Age1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles
20 – 2433% – 49%54% – 70%61% – 78% 23% – 37%44% – 60%50% – 68%
25 – 29 52% – 56%72% – 75%80% – 84% 40% – 44%62% – 65%71% – 75%
30 – 3446% – 55%63% – 74%75% – 83% 34% – 43%52% – 64%65% – 75%
35 – 3921% – 41%32% – 58%45% – 71% 14% – 30%24% – 47%35% – 60%
40 – 444% – 16%7% – 25%12% – 37% 2% – 10%5% – 19%8% – 28%
45 – 500% – 2%0% – 4%1% – 8% 0% – 1%0% – 3%1% – 6%

As you can see there’s still a very good chance of becoming pregnant if you are very overweight and often better than the chance of conceiving naturally, but it is less than for those who maintain a healthy weight.

2. The Eggs Used

A woman can either use her own eggs for IVF treatment or a donor’s eggs and there are reasons for both options. The important thing to note is that not all eggs are useable, and the quality of eggs decline with age. This is the reason why the chance of pregnancy decreases with age. However, as you can see from the following table, the probability of pregnancy for women using donor eggs (on the right) can be higher than the those who use their own eggs (on the left):

Age1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles
20 – 2433% – 49%54% – 70%61% – 78% 46% – 51%68% – 73%90% – 94%
25 – 29 52% – 56%72% – 75%80% – 84% 48% – 49%70% – 71%89% – 90%
30 – 3446% – 55%63% – 74%75% – 83% 49%71%88% – 89%
35 – 3921% – 41%32% – 58%45% – 71% 48% – 49%70% – 71%86% – 87%
40 – 444% – 16%7% – 25%12% – 37% 46% – 48%67% – 70%85% – 86%
45 – 500% – 2%0% – 4%1% – 8% 41% – 46%62% – 67%83% – 84%

As you can see, the most dramatic differences when using donor eggs is that you have a more than 80% chance of becoming pregnant in 3 cycles and that women over 35 have almost the same chance of becoming pregnant in 1, 2 and 3 cycles as younger women.

3. Previous Births

The last factor that influences the number of IVF cycles you need to do to become pregnant is the number of previous births you’ve had. Interestingly, having 2 or more births only increases the chance of IVF success by about 4% but having only 1 birth increases your chance of IVF success much more as the following table shows. The chances of pregnancy for those who have not given birth are on the left and for those who have given birth once are on the right.

Age1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles1 Cycle2 Cycles3 Cycles
20 – 2433% – 49%54% – 70%61% – 78% 39% – 56%62% – 77%69% – 85%
25 – 29 52% – 56%72% – 75%80% – 84% 58% – 62%79% – 81%87% – 89%
30 – 3446% – 55%63% – 74%75% – 83% 52% – 62%70% – 80%83% – 89%
35 – 3921% – 41%32% – 58%45% – 71% 25% – 48%38% – 65%54% – 79%
40 – 444% – 16%7% – 25%12% – 37% 5% – 20%8% – 31%15% – 46%
45 – 500% – 2%0% – 4%1% – 8% 0% – 3%   0% – 5%1% – 11%

And yes, I’m aware of the irony. In order to increase the chances of success and the probability of pregnancy for 1, 2 and 3 cycles of IVF, have a baby beforehand!

What You Can Do to Improve Your Chances of Success

From everything we’ve seen so far, the best ways to improve your chances of success and reduce the number of IVF cycles you need to do to become pregnant is:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Not waiting too long before starting
  • Already having a child

However, there are three other things you can do.

1. Find a Good Clinic

Fertility clinics in the USA are legally obligated to send their data to the CDC, and that data is available to you. When searching the CDC website for clinics near to where you live be sure to also check out their success rates and choose a clinic accordingly.

2. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

This is a good idea in general not only for those of us doing IVF. This means eating, drinking and sleeping well, no smoking or drugs, and reducing your alcohol intake.

3. Reduce Your Stress

When my husband and I went to see a super specialist after repeated IVF failures, part of his advice was to reduce stress. The amount we spent for him to tell us this had exactly the reverse effect, but to get value for money I thought I’d share this piece of information with you.

Now reducing stress does work. When I was taking a break from IVF, I managed to get pregnant naturally (although I did not carry it to term) so it is something that can help, it’s just very difficult to do while also being busy with doctor appointments, paperwork, injections, blood tests, ultrasounds, egg extractions and embryo transfers.

And while taking medications that make your hormones go haywire.

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