Fertility and IVF – What do I need to know?

Posted: Aug 06 2021

There are a variety of reasons why people choose to explore IVF – whether you’re having difficulty conceiving, are part of a same sex relationship looking to start a family, or want to start a family on your own.

IVF

If you are having trouble conceiving, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Infertility affects around 1 in 6 Australian couples1, and there are a range of reasons that can contribute to difficulty getting pregnant. For women, fertility can be affected by an ovulation disorder, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome or a problem with the fallopian tubes. For men it can be a problem with sperm production, or sperm motility (how well the sperm travels to the egg). For a percentage of couples there is no clear medical explanation as to why they can’t conceive.

Whatever the reason, infertility can be emotionally and physically demanding. So, what are some of the things you can do to improve your fertility? And what are some of the options available if you’re still unable to conceive, are in a same sex relationship or are trying for a baby on your own?

We talked to Professor Michael Davies, an epidemiologist located within the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, to find out.

Improving your chances of fertility

Professor Davies says that if you’ve been trying to have a baby for a year or more, or 6 months or more if you are over 35, then speaking to your GP about what your options are is an important first step.

There are some known ways to improve your fertility which include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a nutritious diet and take regular exercise
  • Avoiding heavy drinking
  • Age – Although motherhood can be delayed for many reasons out of one’s control, this can also be an important factor so prompt attention and advice is important.

“There are many fertility treatments available starting with simple health checks and diagnostic procedures,” Professor Davies says.

When you need some assistance

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is one type of assisted reproductive treatment (ART). It involves the injection of hormones into a woman’s body to stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. When the eggs are mature, they are retrieved surgically and then, in a laboratory, combined with sperm from the male partner or donor, in a culture dish for fertilisation to occur. The dish is placed in an incubator where they can develop. Three to five days later, if embryos have formed, then an embryo transfer is performed, placing an embryo into the woman’s uterus – this is called a ‘cycle’.

Some people have to undergo several cycles. In addition to the physical impact, the emotional and psychological strain can also be very demanding throughout this process, particularly if IVF fails to result in pregnancy. In Australia, counselling services are available in all IVF clinics, and couples are encouraged to use these during the course of their care.

Questions to ask your doctor

When speaking with your doctor or specialist about possible IVF treatment, there are a few questions you might like to ask:

  • What are my chances of having a baby, given my circumstances?
  • What percentage of your patients, in my age group and with similar medical histories, achieve pregnancy?
  • What are the range of available therapies available to me?
  • What’s the average number of cycles of IVF it takes for your patients to fall pregnant?
  • Who will be performing the procedures and where will they be done?
  • What level of pain or discomfort can I expect during the procedures?
  • Can the procedures damage my ovaries or affect any future pregnancies?
  • How soon after IVF should I take a pregnancy test?
  • If the first cycle of IVF is unsuccessful, how long should I wait to try again?
  • What are the likely out-of-pocket medical expenses, including tests and medication?
  • Is the cost for subsequent IVF cycles the same?
  • How much time will I need off work to recover?
  • What can I expect to feel after a cycle of IVF?

What are the risks?

As with all medical treatments there can be risks involved, both for the mother and the child. Some health risks of IVF treatment include:

  • an excessive response to fertility drugs (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, OHSS)
  • bleeding during pregnancy
  • the development of high blood pressure and diabetes in later pregnancy
  • pregnancy loss, premature labour, pre-term and low birth weight
  • caesarean delivery
  • admission to neonatal intensive care
  • and while infrequent, a higher risk of still birth, neonatal death, and birth defects.

“Unfortunately, there have been very few studies examining the long-term health effects of IVF,” Professor Davies says. “This is largely due to the relatively short period in which IVF has been used (since 1980 in Australia) and the need for large numbers of couples to examine a comprehensive range of outcomes.”

Multiple births are also more likely for those who undertake IVF, although this is generally well controlled in Australia. Speak with your doctor if you are concerned about any of the risks and to understand them in more detail related to your personal circumstances.

How much does IVF cost?

Costs for IVF can be significant, and they vary across procedures and clinics. Some IVF costs are claimable through Medicare, but there are usually significant out-of-pocket expenses.

Procedures that may be partly covered by Medicare include:

  • egg collection
  • transferring of embryos
  • preparing frozen embryos.


The Australian Government Medical Cost Finder provides a detailed breakdown on the common amounts paid for IVF services that occur out of hospital after Government Medicare payment or in a private hospital with private health insurance in Australia.

It’s important to speak with your doctor up front about the costs you can expect as well as with your health insurer to know exactly what you are covered for. Infertility can often be considered a pre-existing condition, which may affect health insurance waiting periods. Our Member Care team can help you understand what’s included on your cover and any associated waiting periods, help you to save on your out of pocket costs where possible, and help you navigate through the hospital journey.

How having Private Health Insurance can help

Health Partners Gold hospital covers include some benefits towards IVF for services conducted as an in-patient in hospital. You’ll be classified as an in-patient when you’ve been formally admitted to a hospital for an overnight stay or day surgery, or admitted to a registered day clinic by a doctor.

Refer to your Individual Cover Details for more information or contact our Member Care team via phone on 1300 113 113 or by email at ask@healthpartners.com.au.

IVF prescription medications

IVF prescription medication can be expensive. If you visit a Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) licensed pharmacy, then you may be able to obtain the government subsidy - potentially saving you a couple of thousand dollars. Health Partners Extras members can claim benefits on some IVF prescription medication (limits apply) at participating pharmacies in South Australia (subject to stock availability).

Matt Boulter, Managing Pharmacist at TerryWhite Chemmart Marion Road Compounding, says that at his pharmacy many of the pharmacists are familiar with the commonly prescribed IVF medications and how to use them.

"I have a lot of personal experience with IVF as my wife and I went through more than ten cycles," Matt says. "So, I am very familiar with the products, but also the emotional stress that is common during this process. At TerryWhite Chemmart Marion Road Compounding we are able to provide extra advice and support with administering the medications, like handling the needles, syringes and storage which may not always be explained by the IVF clinic."

As IVF medication is expensive to keep in stock, not all pharmacies will keep it on-hand. This means it might need to be ordered from the manufacturer, so it’s a good idea to fill your prescription early rather than waiting until the day you need it.

Where can I go for support?

Your GP is a great first point of call when considering whether IVF treatment might be right for you. You can also find more information and support at the resources below:

  • Your Fertility provides information on how to improve your chance of having a baby.
  • Jean Hailes for Women's Health is a national not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving women's health across Australia through every life stage.
  • VARTA (Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority) provides independent information and support for individuals, couples and health professionals regarding fertility, infertility and assisted reproductive treatment.
  • Healthy Male is a national organisation which provides information for men's health. They are supported by the Australian Government Department of Health.
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If you have questions on your level of cover and what benefits are included, contact us on 1300 113 113 or email ask@healthpartners.com.au.

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Posted: Aug 06 2021

Disclaimer

The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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