Repeated IVF Failure

IVF success rates have improved dramatically since the first success in 1978 (achieved after over 100 cycles!).

IVF success rates are still very much dependent on female age, and that is probably the main reason for repeated failures. So it is never worth waiting once a decision is made to do IVF (as success rates will decline as the woman gets older). Even in the best of circumstances, IVF success rates are 40-50%, although in some instances (eg. Women in their early 20s, or using PGD for enhanced embryo screening) success rates up to 70% are now seen. Nevertheless, that means many couples do not succeed, and many end up unsuccessful after 3 or more transfers.

There are statistical data to show that IVF success rates seem to decline after a few cycles (5), and also data from large populations (cumulative success rates) to show there appears to be less success once the couples who succeed immediately are removed from the analysis.

So what does this mean for you if you have repeated failure? In fact there are many couples who succeed after multiple attempts. There are 2 critical aspects of their success: (1) determination to continue (the more embryos created the more likely one will implant), and (2) careful consideration of every detail of their treatment. This often leads to ‘empirical treatment’, where different drugs or protocols are tried (even when scientific trials are lacking) , and success occurs by a combination of (1) and (2).

Dr Sacks believes that it is possible to be more directed in empirical testing and treatment. This requires an interest and understanding of research, and the willingness to discuss uncertainty, and engage patients with possible (theoretical) options.

Sometimes, couples need to accept the reality that IVF will not work, and that is also an important part of their journey. That discussion, with the potential options of egg donor, or embryo donor, or surrogacy, is one that requires a deep understanding of all the issues.

Dr Sacks is a clinical director of IVFAustralia.

Partnership with The Pink Elephant Support Network

At The Pink Elephants Support Network, our aim is to support, nurture and empower women who are experiencing infertility and miscarriage.

Through Pink Elephants, we want to reduce the feelings of isolation many women feel by connecting them with other women who have experienced the journey before them, and are now able to mentor others. Miscarriage and infertility may be individual journeys, but no woman should have to walk them alone. So we want every woman to have the opportunity to connect with someone who ‘gets it’. We will also run closed groups on our website that women can join for additional support in a safe and caring environment.

To find out more, please visit