What Is Mini-IVF, the Supposedly Cheaper, Less Invasive Alternative to IVF?
Editor’s Note: We at POPSUGAR recognize that people of many genders and identities have vaginas and uteruses, not just those who are women. For this particular story, we interviewed experts who generally referred to people with vaginas and uteruses as women.
Couples and individuals may be ready to grow their families and fill a home with little ones, but sometimes getting pregnant can be challenging. For those dealing with infertility, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), a form of assisted reproductive technology, can be a solution.
But the IVF process can be extremely taxing mentally, physically, and financially. Recently, another form of IVF has gained popularity as a more cost-effective and low dosage way to receive fertility treatments: mini IVF. So what makes mini IVF different from traditional IVF? POPSUGAR spoke to experts to better understand mini IVF, the downsized fertility treatment on the rise.
What Is Mini IVF?
Well, mini IVF is essentially IVF. It requires the same process, but it’s given the term “mini” because it involves a reduced or minimal stimulation protocol. It’s a gentle alternative to traditional IVF.
“I tend to recommend mini IVF more and more because of the lower dosage, and it tends to be a little more friendly, easier on the ovaries and the woman when they’re going through fertility treatment,” Robert Kiltz, MD, founder and director of CNY Fertility Centers, told POPSUGAR. Rather than using large amounts of fertility medication to stimulate a woman’s ovulation (as with traditional IVF), mini IVF uses a smaller dosage of medication to gently stimulate the production of a small number of high-quality eggs – usually three to five quality eggs per cycle, according to Dr Kiltz.
How Does Mini IVF Differ From Conventional IVF?
A huge difference between mini IVF and traditional IVF is the amount of medication needed for ovarian stimulation. Conventional IVF requires daily high-dosage injections, while mini IVF stimulates egg growth with oral medication and minor injections. The consequences of the reduced medication also differ; a mini IVF cycle produces fewer eggs than a full stimulation cycle.
Mini IVF uses a combination of both oral medications and injectable follicle-stimulating hormone medications, which helps control the menstrual cycle and stimulates the growth of eggs in the ovaries. The dosage for traditional IVF is 300 units and can reach up to 400 or 600 units for higher doses, for 10 days daily. Mini IVF is a much lower dosage, consisting of 100 to 200 units a day for 10 days, which is tolerated better for women, according to Dr. Kiltz.
“Interesting enough, some women, even in those lower doses will make more eggs,” Dr. Kiltz says. Then, there’s the difference in cost. The average cost of a traditional IVF cycle is between $10,000 to $15,000 per cycle, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). But depending on your insurance, where you’re getting treatment, and your specific health profile, it could reach up to $25,000USD per cycle. Mini IVF, on the other hand, tends to be more affordable simply because the protocol doesn’t require large amount of medications compared to other IVF procedures. At CNY Fertility, the cost of Mini IVF can range from anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000 per cycle, says Dr. Kiltz. Still, it’s worth noting that by taking fewer medications as with mini IVF, fewer embryos will be produced. This could result in having to do more IVF cycles, which of course, can add up.
How Does Mini IVF Work?
There are four steps to the mini IVF process, according to CNY Fertility: stimulation, egg retrieval and sperm collection or retrieval, egg fertilization, and embryo transfer.
- Stimulation: The first step in the mini IVF process is ovarian stimulation. During this phase, hormone-based medications will be given to stimulate the ovaries to produce a small number of high-quality eggs. According to CNY Fertility, most women will take a small amount of oral stimulation medications for 10 days daily and inject one “trigger” shot at the end of those 10 days. A “trigger” shot is used to cause the eggs to be matured and released.” So you take the pills for about 10 days, you take a trigger shot to release the eggs from the ovaries, and then you do the egg retrieval about 36 hours later,” Dr. Kiltz says.
- Egg Retrieval & Sperm Collection or Retrieval: Egg Retrieval is a minor outpatient procedure where developed eggs are collected from the woman’s ovaries and is performed 35 hours after the “trigger” medication. A physician will use a tiny, hollow needle to suction and collect the eggs from the follicles. Sperm can be collected or retrieved a number of ways: via ejaculation the morning of the egg retrieval, frozen ahead of time at the facility, shipped frozen from another location, supplied by a donor, etc. Once the sperm has been processed, it’s taken to the embryology lab to be fertilized.
- Egg Fertilization: There are two primary methods used to fertilize eggs: conventional fertilization and ICSI fertilization. Conventional fertilization involves placing sperm in a petri dish and letting it naturally penetrate into the egg to begin fertilization. ICSI fertilization uses a a tiny hollow needle to inject an individual sperm into the egg. Once the egg is fertilized using either method, the resulting embryos will grow, ideally to the blastocyst stage, where they can be tested for any genetic disorders and sex.
- Embryo Transfer: One or two embryos will be transferred back into the uterus using a thin catheter, which can take about 15-20 minutes for the procedure, says Dr. Kiltz. The goal is that the transferred embryos will implant and pregnancy will result. Remaining embryos that are not transferred can be frozen and used for a frozen embryo transfer later on. But this is less likely for a mini IVF cycle compared to a conventional IVF cycle.
Who Is Mini IVF Good For?
Mini IVF can be a good option for a range of people. But Dr. Kiltz points out a few populations in particular that may benefit from using this process over traditional IVF, including those with:
- A low ovarian reserve: Women with low or diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) may not respond well to high dosage stimulating medications, so mini IVF is often a good option for them, says Dr. Kiltz.
- High risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS): This condition can happen as a response to excess hormones in the body, per the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and tenderness in the ovaries area. Those at risk for OHSS, like people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), may be a good candidate for mini IVF, say Dr. Kiltz. By lowering the amount of medications used, you lower the risk of hyperstimulating the ovaries and you can still produce sufficient egg quantities.