IVF Step 5: Egg collection

This procedure is also called “oocyte capture” and “ovum retrieval.”

This is simply a procedure to collect the mature eggs from the follicles in your ovaries. After the eggs have been collected, they will be mixed with your partners sperm and allowed to fertilise.

The egg collection procedure is a bit like having a mini-operation.

Your eggs are normally ready to be collected after 10-14 days of treatment with follicle-stimulating drugs (see step 2). You will be monitored closely with ultrasound scans whilst you are taking these drugs. The ultrasonographer will measure the size of your growing follicles each time you have a scan. When your follicles have reached the right size, you will be given a date to come in for the egg collection procedure. You will also receive clear, written instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. These instructions will include:

  • When to take your last dose of down-regulation drug (see step 1).
  • When to take your last dose of follicle-stimulating drug (see step 2).
  • When to take Pregnyl (the drug to mature your eggs – see step 3).
  • When to start taking Utrogestan (see step 4).
  • How long you will need to abstain from intercourse (not have sex) before the procedure.
  • How long you will need to fast (not eat or drink) for before the procedure.
  • What you should bring with you on the day.

You will be given a date and a time to come in for your egg collection procedure. It is normally carried out in the morning.

When you arrive, you will be shown to a bed and asked to change your clothes. There will be a curtain to protect your privacy whilst you change. The nurse will give you a surgical gown to wear underneath your dressing gown. A cannula (fine plastic tube) will be inserted into a vein in the back of your hand. The cannula will be used to give you drugs to make you feel sleepy and relaxed (sedated) throughout the procedure.

Whilst you are being prepared for the procedure, your husband/partner will be taken to a private room and asked to provide a semen (sperm) sample. He will be given clear instructions on the best way to do this.

There have been many research studies carried out to decide how long a man should go without sex or masturbation before he gives a semen sample, in order to give the best quality sperm. Our advice is, in order to provide a sample with the best quality sperm, your partner should not have sex or masturbate for 3-6 days before the egg collection procedure is due to take place. This will maximise the number of healthy, active sperm in the sample.

Photo of treatment room

The treatment room where your ovum retrieval will take place

The egg collection procedure will be carried out in the treatment room at the IVF unit. This will be the same room in which you had your mock embryo transfer. Your partner or a friend can sit with you whist you have it done, if you want. The procedure will be either be carried out by a doctor or by a highly-trained, experienced nurse. There will be other people in the room, such as another nurse to assist and an embryologist to take care of the eggs once they have been collected.

When you are ready, a nurse will give you drugs to numb the pain and relax you. These drugs will be given via the small plastic tube (cannula) in your hand. Although you may feel very sleepy, you will be awake throughout the procedure. The nurse can give you top-ups of the painkilling drugs, if you feel you need it.

You will also be given oxygen throughout the procedure. This is given via two short plastic tubes that sit at the base of your nostrils. An inflatable cuff will also be strapped around your upper arm to monitor your blood pressure.

The team will not start the egg collection procedure until you feel ready.

The doctor/nurse will insert an ultrasound probe into your vagina to see the follicles in your ovaries. A fine needle will then be used to collect the eggs from the follicles. The doctor/nurse will push the needle through the top of your vagina and into each follicle in turn.

Photo of an embryologist storing eggs and sperm in an incubator.

The embryologist stores the eggs and sperm safely in an incubator

The needle is attached to a syringe for filling the follicle with fluid and sucking fluid back out. When the tip of the needle reaches a follicle, the doctor/nurse will collect all the fluid from the inside of the follicle. The fluid is taken to the laboratory next door and examined under a microscope to see if it contains the egg from the follicle. If it does not contain the egg, the doctor/nurse will refill the follicle with fluid and attempt to “flush out” the egg. This fluid will be collected and the laboratory team will look for the egg. Once the egg has been found, it will be kept safely in the laboratory, ready to be fertilised. This doctor/nurse will repeat this process for each follicle.

The team will try their best to find an egg in each follicle, but this is sometimes not possible.

The egg collection procedure varies in the length of time that it takes. For some women it takes only 20 minutes or so, but for others it may take up to an hour.

Photo of the recovery room.

The recovery room

When the team have collected as many eggs as possible, you will be taken to the recovery room to rest. You can stay here until you feel ready to go home. You will need to take it easy for the rest of the day. We strongly recommend that you do not work, drive, cook or operate any machinery, as the drugs used to make you feel sleepy and relaxed will still be in your body. You will be given written instructions on how to prepare for the embryo/blastocyst transfer (step 6) when you leave.

What happens to the eggs and sperm in the laboratory?

Photo of sperm being prepared for IVF.

An embryologist prepares the sperm for IVF

Your eggs will be taken to the laboratory as they are collected. Your partner’s sperm will also be processed in the laboratory. They will be looked after by our dedicated team of embryologists. The eggs and sperm will be kept separately in an incubator. This is a special cupboard that keeps the temperature and chemical conditions around the eggs and sperm similar to conditions found naturally in the body.

Photo of sperm being examined under a microscope.

An embryologist examines the sperm under a microscope

A few hours after your egg collection procedure has taken place, the embryologist will mix your eggs with your partner’s sperm. The dish containing the eggs and sperm will then be returned to the incubator to allow fertilisation to take place.

The egg is said to be “fertilised” when a single sperm has burrowed its way through the tough outer coating of the egg. When the sperm reaches the core of the egg, it tells the egg to divide into two cells. These cells then divide again and keep dividing each day until a tiny ball of cells is formed. This ball of cells is the earliest stage in the growth of a baby. It is called an “embryo.”

Photo of an embryologist carrying out IVF.

An embryologist carries out IVF

The embryologist will check on the dish approximately 18 hours later, to see if the sperm and eggs have become embryos.

We will telephone you to let you know if your eggs have fertilised or not. You can expect this call 2-3 days after your egg collection procedure has taken place.

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