22 August 2017

Infertility and pain: is IVF painful?

By the Editorial Comitee IVI Blog

People experience sensations very differently, and what may be unbearable to one person may not be cause for concern in another. This is a good reason not to be unduly alarmed about the amount of pain you can expect to go through when undergoing IVF in Spain or in one of IVI’s other clinics. Each patient has a different reaction to the procedures involved, and may or may not experience slight pain. Physical discomfort is to be expected, and an experienced medical professional will be on hand to explain what is happening and provide comfort every step of the way. There are other forms of pain, though, such as the emotional pain of a failed attempt, that must not be taken lightly. However, successful IVF cycles generally mean childbirth, so it would be foolish to say that there is no pain involved whatsoever – just know that it will be worth it when you hold that child in your arms.


IVF requires an abundance of eggs, and if the patient is using her own rather than a donor egg, ovulation drugs will need to be taken. These stimulate the release of more eggs than in a usual cycle. The drugs themselves are self-administered by the patient using a needle. Injections often incite fear, but there is really no reason for this: these needles are so thin that there truly isn’t any pain. The patient can ask her partner or a friend to assist her if she really can’t bear to watch, which may even have the upside of making the other person feel included in the process. Egg release may be uncomfortable, but should not be painful. Side effects may include bloating, and while it can feel unpleasant when your favourite jeans suddenly don’t fit, this will pale into significance if you are successful in falling pregnant.

Once the eggs have been released they must be retrieved. There are a number of different ways in which this can be done, but the likelihood is that the patient will be sedated, avoiding any discomfort. It is not unusual to experience cramping after the eggs have been removed, but this is similar to the monthly menstrual cramps that most women will have experienced since puberty. The patient will likely be used to handling these cramps, and will have her own preferred method of dealing with them. Some women take paracetamol, some find relief in swimming or other exercise, and some find a hot water bottle to be the best option. Just as every body is different, every person has their own way of dealing with regular discomfort.

The most potentially painful part of undergoing IVF is the procedure to implant the fertilized eggs back into the uterus. Done a few days after egg retrieval, this feels like a smear test; not pleasant by any means, but nothing to be scared of. If the patient has chosen to go through IVF in Spain, at least the weather will be amenable and she will be able to lounge in the sunshine instead of languishing in the rain.

Unsuccessful cycles

The physical discomfort that may arise during IVF may be secondary to the emotional turmoil that can result from an unsuccessful cycle. The day the patient’s menstrual cycle begins she may feel distraught and in need of comfort. The partner, close friends, or family can be an invaluable source of support during a difficult time, and IVI will also be available with professionals on hand who are trained to help. We will be able to talk the patient through what has happened, and provide information on the next steps.

A failed IVF cycle is not trivial. It is completely normal to go through a period of mourning, and it is healthy for a patient to be able to go through the experience on her own terms. If she chooses to take some time before attempting another cycle of IVF, that is something that can be discussed with her clinic. If she chooses not to try again, that is her prerogative. Some women do not feel a sense of loss at this early stage – that is nothing to worry about. As every person experiences things differently, every person who goes through a failed cycle of IVF is allowed to react differently. IVI is one of the leading providers of IVF in Spain, having been the first medical institution dealing with human reproduction in the country in 1990, and we have seen it all over the years. We will do everything in our power to make a failed cycle as painless as possible.

Best-case scenario

The best outcome is that the patient is successful in falling pregnant and goes on to have a healthy baby. While the procedures associated with IVF will be as detailed above, pregnancy can result in all sorts of strange sensations, including potential pain. Swollen feet and hands may make shoes and rings uncomfortable, and of course as the pregnant patient grows bigger she may find it more difficult to carry out her usual activities with ease. These aches and pains are completely normal and are often part and parcel of pregnancy. In fact, many women come to terms with these niggles as they are a constant reminder of the new life growing within them. Labour can be intense, of course, but luckily our incredible biology helps us to easily forget the pain of childbirth once it is over. The overwhelming majority find, of course, that taking a brand new baby home makes it all more than worth it.

Pain is always a possibility when undergoing a medical procedure, and going through IVF is no different. People react differently to different experiences, and the possible side effects of ovulation drugs and other hormones may include discomfort. However, IVI patients report that IVF is mildly uncomfortable rather than painful. With 87% of our patients becoming pregnant through IVF, the end result far outweighs any discomfort.

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