Understand egg retrieval process, preparation, and recovery

Last Updated on June 7, 2019

Generally speaking, the egg retrieval step in the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process sets the stage for everything that comes after it. Successful retrieval of viable eggs should never be taken for granted. The egg retrieval process is special and complex, and must be done correctly in order for IVF to be successful.

Leading up to egg retrieval, a woman goes through a number of tests and takes medication. The specific amount of medication and the various tests given all depend on the woman’s fertility issue as well as her age. Fertility specialists prescribe medications that will help the ovaries produce multiple eggs. Ideally, all of the eggs that are produced will be viable and healthy.

But there is a lot that happens before and after egg retrieval. In IVF treatment, fertility specialists and patients carefully prepare, and take special precautions, to retrieve multiple healthy eggs. In short, egg retrieval is an incredibly important step in any IVF treatment journey.


Basic steps in the egg retrieval process

The egg retrieval process itself doesn’t take long, and specialists consider it minimally invasive. In other words, it’s not major surgery or particularly risky. Women who are going through IVF treatment usually ask about the procedure and what’s involved with it. Then, they are surprised to find out that there’s not much to the end to end process!

However, just because the process doesn’t take very long, that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant! Keep in mind that ovaries and follicles are on a timetable. Fertility specialists cannot just retrieve eggs whenever it’s convenient to do so. Timing plays a major role in the process.

Egg retrieval generally follows these same steps, regardless of the individual fertility treatment center.

Step 1. Anesthesia
When the patient arrives at the fertility clinic, the doctor gives her anesthesia, even though egg retrieval doesn’t involve major surgery. However, women may experience some discomfort during this time, and the procedure needs to be done carefully. So, most of the time, egg retrieval requires anesthesia. Usually, specialists and doctors use a simple sedative through an IV.
Step 2. Ultrasound
The fertility specialist uses ultrasound devices to find the ovaries, follicles, and eggs.
Step 3. Collection
Carefully, the fertility specialist inserts a hollow needle into the ovaries to collect eggs, one at a time. At this point in time, the specialist does not know which eggs are viable (usable). All eggs that are released will be collected.

As stated earlier, a lot happens before the actual egg retrieval process, and then a lot more happens after it. However, the actual procedure does not take long. From start to finish, many fertility clinics estimate the total time to be anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

How to prepare for egg retrieval

Before egg retrieval, the fertility doctor prescribes medication to encourage the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The reason for this is that ovaries, under normal circumstances, produce only one egg every month. But with IVF, specialists need to retrieve as many eggs as possible. Additionally, the eggs that are retrieved need to be mature and ready for fertilization.

So, the medications given to women undergoing IVF treatment do two things: (1) encourage the production of multiple eggs, and (2) speed up the time to mature those eggs for fertilization. The fertility clinic and doctor work closely with the woman to monitor how things are progressing. An injection – sometimes affectionately called a trigger shot – stimulates the follicles and helps them release the eggs into the ovaries. The clinic schedules the procedure for exactly 36 hours from that point in time.

As far as preparation, there really is not much to do. To prepare for egg retrieval, just don’t eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of the procedure. Some clinics allow small sips of water, but it’s best not to consume anything at all. Most likely, the clinic will schedule the procedure for early in the morning.

Some women who have gone through IVF treatment suggest there are things that can improve egg quality or transfer success. For best results, however, keep in close contact with the fertility specialist and follow all instructions. When it comes to egg retrieval, timing is the most important thing.

Egg retrieval recovery guidance

egg retrieval recovery

Even though the egg retrieval process requires no surgery and isn’t invasive, some amount of recovery time helps. Don’t schedule work for later in the day. It’s best to take the whole day off, just in case the procedure takes a heavy toll on the body. Plan for much needed rest.

Sometimes, the anesthesia makes patients nauseas when they “wake up.” That feeling is normal, but even so, a doctor may provide anti-nausea medication to treat it.

Because of the anesthesia and sedation, the clinic may require that someone be present to escort the woman back home. In other words, driving is definitely not advised!

After the egg retrieval, expect potential, mild cramping for the remainder of the day. If necessary, take pain relieving medication to help with cramping and discomfort. Some doctors prescribe painkillers – just in case they are needed.

However, do not take certain, over-the-counter drugs such as Advil or Ibuprofen. These medications potentially interfere with the body’s chemistry and could make implantation more difficult. Remember, egg retrieval is only one step. There is still more to do after this!

Finally, some women will notice bloating. Bloating is normal and can last for around a week. Rest and prescribed pain medications can help ease discomfort from bloating, as can ice packs or heating pads.

Other than the side effects of light sedation/anesthesia, nausea, and mild cramping, recovery doesn’t require much other than rest.

What happens after egg retrieval

After the eggs are retrieved, the specialists will wash them and place them into dishes. Special incubators ensure that the eggs have the proper conditions. Depending on how many eggs were retrieved, some eggs may be frozen – before fertilization. That process, known as cryopreservation, helps women and couples reduce overall cost of IVF because future cycles will not require egg retrieval. If the fertility specialist was able to retrieval many mature eggs, they may recommend this important step.

For any eggs that are not frozen, fertilization starts the same day after egg retrieval, within a few hours. Fertility clinics do this one of two ways, depending on male infertility factor and other things. Most commonly, doctors will mix eggs and sperm together in a dish and hope fertilization occurs naturally.

ICSI, on the other hand, requires manual fertilization. With ICSI, a doctor uses a needle to inject a single sperm into a single egg. While neither procedure is 100% effective for fertilization, ICSI can be more effective when the sperm have low motility, or when the sperm count is low.

Fertilization takes several hours, and so most fertility clinics will revisit the eggs and sperm the following day. Then, what happens next depends on the treatment type and choices made to ensure the highest possible success. Many times, fertilized eggs mature for three days, and then are transferred. Sometimes, eggs mature for 5 or 6 days before transfer.

Finally, if several eggs were fertilized, a woman can choose to have to the embryos or blastocysts frozen, similar to freezing eggs. This option is ideal when multiple rounds of IVF are likely going to be needed to result in a pregnancy.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is egg retrieval painful?

The procedure itself is not painful, because patients are usually sedated. After the procedure is over, most clinics tell patients to expect some mild cramping, bloating and discomfort. To ease the symptoms, prescription medication may be provided. Avoid taking over the counter medications or anti-inflammatory medications. While these may reduce bloating, they may also interfere with implantation a few days.

How long does egg retrieval take?

Egg retrieval takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to thirty minutes, depending on how many eggs are available. That said, the amount of time spent in the office on the day varies. Patients could be at the office for several hours, depending on the clinic’s processes. On the day of retrieval, sperm is also collected, so set aside time for that. After the retrieval, some recovery in the office may be necessary.

How many eggs will be retrieved?

Some clinics provide an average number of eggs collected, but most clinics cannot say in advance how many eggs will be retrieved. It depends on how many mature follicles released eggs into the ovaries. Each woman will have her own fertility diagnosis, which certainly impacts the number of eggs. The fertility specialist will count the number of eggs retrieved and communicate that information.

The injectable medications prescribed before egg retrieval should be effective, and result in multiple mature eggs for collecting.