IVF success rates improve amid growing concerns about lack of industry transparency

Three years. Five IVF cycles. Thirteen embryo transfers.

Still, Kate* had no baby.

"I went in for the 14th embryo transfer and was told, 'Sorry, we don't have one for you'," she said.

By that point, Kate was 41. She'd tried "anything and everything" to get pregnant, and spent more than $40,000 in the process.

"The treatment knocked me round physically and mentally, the constant disappointment … trying to deal with regular sadness," she said.

Having started IVF at 38, Kate knew the odds were stacked against her.

But with each failed attempt, she was offered another round — and took it, desperately clinging to the possibility of a child at the end.

"It became achingly apparent things weren't going to happen," she said.

"The time came and [my husband and I] said … 'We just can't do it anymore. We just have to let this go.'"

IVF a challenge, but rates improving

Kate and her husband are among thousands of Australians who know the pain of unsuccessful IVF treatments.

While chances of conceiving through IVF are modest, new data shows that, overall, IVF success rates are slowly improving

"Success rates have gone up because of the improved pregnancy rates with frozen embryos, due to the improved laboratory techniques, and the fact that we can now genetically test the embryos before they go back," said Michael Chapman, president of the FSA.

A typical round of IVF involves stimulating a woman's ovaries to produce eggs. Those eggs are collected, then fertilised (in a lab) to create embryos, which are then transferred back to the womb.

In 2017, the overall birth rate per cycle was 21.2 per cent — a slight increase on the previous year. That means that for every 100 treatment cycles started (with the intention of a pregnancy, not just to freeze eggs), 21.2 babies were born.

That figure increases to 34 per cent when you look at the cumulative rate of IVF success. In other words, women had a 34 per cent chance of taking home a baby at the end of a "complete" IVF cycle, which can involve several embryo transfers from a single round of egg collection.

Importantly, success rates are going up while multiple delivery rates remain low, according to Georgina Chambers, director of the National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit at the University of New South Wales.

"The greatest risk from ART [assisted reproductive technology] treatment is multiple births. Being born as a twin or triplet puts you at risk of adverse health outcomes," she said.

The practice of transferring multiple embryos at once to a patient's womb was traditionally done to improve a woman's chances of getting pregnant.

"But we know because of the risks, it's best to transfer just one embryo," said Dr Chambers, who co-authored the report.

"Our multiple birth rate is now 3.6 per cent, which is almost the lowest in the world."

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