A UK fertility expert has advised younger women against rushing in for IVF. Hang on there on longer, you might be lucky, she says. Cutting stress levels and losing weight could do the trick better, according to Dr Geeta Nargund.
Research shows those who opt for IVF after 12 months are only slightly more likely to conceive than those who let nature take its course. They are also more likely to have twins or triplets, raising the overall health risk.
Dr Nargund, head of reproductive medicine at St George's Hospital in Tooting, South London, told the Daily Mail: "We must offer lifestyle advice, early tests and simple approaches to promote natural conception. If a woman is younger and has no serious medical causes of infertility, she should consider improving her fertility naturally.
"IVF is safe but what we are saying is you don't want unnecessary medical treatment far too early."
Dr Nargund conducted a study with the help of academics in the Netherlands and a computer program that simulated the likely results of 100,000 women trying to have babies. Although those who had IVF were more likely to have a baby, the difference in birth rate was small, in part because many of the women who didn't conceive naturally in the first year did do so in subsequent years.
Using IVF greatly increased the chances of twins or triplets, who are much more likely to be born prematurely, less likely to survive the first week of life and have a much higher risk of cerebral palsy.
Dr Nargund's study concluded that IVF, which can cost up to £15,000 at a time, was an "excellent treatment for couples who have little or no chance of a natural pregnancy".
Professor Bill Ledger, a fertility expert from Sheffield University, added: "IVF is unpleasant and stressful and should not be done if there is a reasonable chance of a natural conception. However there is a balance to be struck. As a woman passes 30 chances of a conception and live birth from IVF begin to fall, and fall more steeply after 35. It is also pointless to wait long if there is an obvious infertility cause - for example a partner with a very low sperm count."
Eight years ago, Dr.Geeta Nargund and her colleagues had advised IVF clinics to consider taking advantage of a womans natural cycle during infertility
treatment instead of routinely using drugs to stimulate ovaries into producing extra eggs.
A study published today in Europes leading reproductive medicine journal, Human Reproduction, found that for the majority of women the chances of pregnancy were just as good if doctors relied on the woman's natural menstrual cycle.
In 60% to 70% of cases, a series of treatment cycles without using ovarian stimulation would be safer, less stressful and mean fewer multiple births, it was stated.
It also cost only a fifth of the price of current practice and would bring IVF within the reach of more childless couples worldwide and enable countries that state-fund IVF to help more women.
Dr Nargund's team
reached its conclusion following a study of 181 treatments in 52 women at the Assisted Conception Unit at Kings College Hospital, London. All the women had treatment based around their natural menstrual cycles.
They were found to have the same chance of having a baby after an average of three to four cycles of treatment as women undergoing conventional drug-stimulated treatment about a third (32% as against 34%).