Today, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is practically a household word. But not so long ago, it was a mysterious procedure for infertility that produced what were then known as "test-tube babies." Louise Brown, born in England in 1978, was the first such baby to be conceived outside her mother's womb.
Unlike the simpler process of artificial insemination -- in which sperm is placed in the uterus and conception happens otherwise normally -- IVF involves combining eggs and sperm outside the body in a laboratory. Once an embryo or embryos form, they are then placed in the uterus. IVF is a complex and expensive procedure; only about 5% of couples with infertility seek it out. However, since its introduction in the U.S. in 1981, IVF and other similar techniques have resulted in more than 200,000 babies.
The good, if not great, news is that the latest advances in infertility treatment have made it possible for more people than ever before to become parents. The bad news is that growing numbers of couples may be jumping the gun and seeking infertility treatments without giving Mother Nature a chance. Infertility treatments, such as drugs that stimulate ovulation, are not without their risks -- namely a risk of multiple pregnancies, which can be dangerous for moms and babies.
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