In my work and medical research, I've seen an increase in the number of women actively seeking out Natural or Mild approaches as their first choice for IVF treatment. However, I still feel that for women who are having difficulty in conceiving, awareness about fertility treatments and different IVF options remains far too low. This is partly because we, in the UK, don't talk about fertility very often and because fertility challenges aren't always highlighted in family planning classes in schools. This year - the 35th year since the first IVF baby was born by natural IVF - I believe it is time to celebrate the impact that Natural and Mild IVF have had on many families' lives.
Mild IVF uses significantly lower levels of drugs than conventional IVF and is considered by many in the scientific world to be safer and healthier for both the mother and baby. I believe that it also reduces the physical, emotional and financial burden on the woman. I became an advocate for this 'soft' approach to IVF through my medical practice, research and experience of talking with patients. Over the years, techniques in Natural and Mild IVF have been further developed and refined, based on scientific findings. Now we're seeing a rise in the number of women looking for this technique because they find conventional treatment, with its temporary menopausal symptoms and injections spanning four to five weeks distressing. These women want to take a safer, gentler approach fitted within their natural cycle - not least since it has been shown that Mild IVF can have excellent success rates in young women with normal egg reserves. That said, in older women and those with low egg reserves, Natural cycle IVF can also be effective.
With Mild IVF, a greater emphasis is placed on using a technique that uses Doppler scanning to identify higher quality follicles - eggs - and conditions for implantation. This more natural approach is a low drug method, and so provides options for women that are safer. Research shows that the Mild approach can be associated with better egg quality, lower chromosome abnormalities in embryos and bigger babies compared to high stimulation and conventional IVF. It has also been shown that high stimulation can compromise implantation rates.
Also, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is more likely to occur with conventional IVF and can make women extremely unwell, seldom occurs with mild IVF. The total cost of a Natural or Mild IVF cycle can also be lower than in conventional IVF for some patients, because less drugs are needed. I really believe that more couples would choose Natural or Mild IVF if they were aware of its benefits to their and their baby's health.
To this end, I recently held a party for the families who my team and I have supported over the years and who have had babies by Natural and Mild IVF, to come together to share their experiences and celebrate 35 years since the first IVF baby was born with Natural IVF. During this humbling, moving event, I took the opportunity to ask the Mums and Dads whether they thought that women who were seeking help with their fertility problems were aware of the option of Natural and Mild IVF treatment. I was interested in canvassing their views as they have been through the process of researching IVF options and many have been to multiple clinics before having successful treatment by Mild or Natural IVF. Most of them said that awareness was too low and that they would have opted for mild IVF earlier if they had been aware it existed. Some said they think more information should be made available on this approach in the media and through health services. Many also expressed an interest in there being more forums, such as fertility friends and social media spaces where people can get together to share their experiences, and information, on the different IVF and fertility planning options available.
Responding to an increasing interest in this 'softer' approach to IVF, my team and I are planning a new flagship centre in central London and have plans to expand further both in the UK and internationally. I'm well aware that navigating the complex information available on fertility treatments can be a confusing and lonely journey for those considering the road towards parenthood with IVF. The feedback calling for more information on Natural and Mild IVF and the value that people place in having spaces where they can share their experiences is also something that all of us involved in this area should consider carefully. Celebrating the success of Natural and Mild IVF has played in many families lives is one step towards achieving this goal of making IVF safer, healthier, more woman-centred, successful and accessible.
Professor Dr. Geeta Nargund is a global pioneer of Natural and Mild IVF and Advanced Ultrasound Technology in Reproductive Medicine and the Medical Director of Create Health.