HINT: It's not IVF

Fertility rates are dropping all over the world, and more American couples are seeking out assisted reproductive technology (ART) than ever before. According to the New York Times, 1 in 65 American babies is now born after some kind of fertility treatment, and with each passing year, more companies are specifically offering some type of in vitro fertilization (IVF) coverage in their health plans. But with all of the fervor—and money—that goes into combating infertility with IVF, just how effective is it, and are there any better options available to women?

Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) doctors would say that not only are there more effective treatments aimed at addressing the root causes of infertility, but also that these treatments are more accessible to the average couple because of its significantly cheaper costs.

So, just how effective is IVF?

What percentage of IVF procedures, on average, end in pregnancy?

The answer is that about 27 percent of all single IVF cycles lead to pregnancy, and a slightly lower percentage then that lead to a live birth. According to the CDC’s 2016 report (the most recent data available) on national assisted reproductive technology statistics, “about 27% of cycles using fresh embryos from fresh nondonor eggs that were started in 2016 resulted in clinical pregnancy… approximately 81% of the pregnancies resulting from ART cycles using fresh embryos from fresh nondonor eggs in 2016 produced a live birth... [and] about 18% of pregnancies resulted in miscarriage, stillbirth, induced abortion, or maternal death prior to birth.”

Are you surprised that IVF’s success rate is not higher? If so, you’re not alone. Study after study has shown that misconceptions and myths abound among successful careerists, OB/GYN residents, and college students alike regarding the length of a woman’s fertile window, and how successful IVF really is (and they are misconceptions shared by both men and women). When polled about these subjects, each of these groups tends to grossly overestimate both the success rates of IVF and the length of the female “window” of fertility (believing that it easily extends into one’s forties and fifties—it doesn’t). The United Kingdom’s leading fertility expert, Professor Robert Winston, laments that “the reality is, people are being sucked into IVF without a full recognition of exactly how low the success rate is.”

What about costs? We all know that IVF is expensive, but just how expensive is it? A 2014 Forbes article pegs the national average cost-per-cycle at $12,000 before drugs, which cost another $3,000 to $5,000. Add in other features like pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to screen out inheritable diseases, and Forbes says you’re looking at about $20,000 per cycle—with the warning that that’s probably a conservative estimate (although clinics will sometimes implement discounted rates for additional cycles). Considering that the “rule of thumb” seems to be that it takes about three IVF cycles on average for a successful pregnancy to occur and that many of the costs associated with IVF are paid for out-of-pocket (often with at least some portion being placed on credit cards), it’s little wonder that the desperate quest for a baby sends many couples spiraling into debt.

The high price of IVF makes it an inaccessible solution to infertility for many—if not most—American couples. With the burden of college debt and the reality of stagnant wages, most people are simply not in any position to gamble tens of thousands of dollars on the 1 in 3 odds promised by IVF—and yet, they do, out of gut-wrenching desperation to have a biological child of their own. To make matters worse, even if a couple is able to conceive with IVF, babies conceived via IVF face increased risk for a whole host of issues, including premature birth, low birth weight, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and blood cancer.

So, is there a better way forward for couples struggling with the very real burden of infertility? 

Let’s contrast IVF’s odds with those of NaProTechnology.

First, the philosophy behind NaPro is not to manufacture a pregnancy by outside means, but rather to correct underlying conditions that may be preventing pregnancy from occurring naturally, like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. The idea is that infertility is actually a symptom of a larger problem, and once that larger problem has been discovered and corrected, the couple is better equipped to produce a child the good old fashioned way. In addition to successfully treating PCOS and endometriosis, NaPro doctors have had success in treating infertility due to occluded fallopian tubes and anovulation as well, and they have had success in helping couples conceive even with male factor infertility issues, such as low sperm count.

Since NaPro studies are often small in scale, it can be somewhat difficult to compare NaPro study results directly to IVF study results. After all, in the United States alone, there are nearly 500 fertility clinics, while there are only about 100 certified NaPro doctors. But data from small-scale clinical trials, NaPro clinics/practices, and the Pope Paul VI Institute (the research facility that developed, and continues to develop and teach, NaProTechnology), indicates that NaPro can yield real results for couples desperate for a baby, with success rates that far outpace those of IVF—sometimes doubling or even tripling the success rates of IVF, depending on the cause of infertility. According to one of the largest-scale studies done on the efficacy of NaPro Technology, more than 60 percent of NaPro patients were pregnant within two years of beginning treatment, and 70 percent were pregnant within three years of treatment. Other, smaller studies have seen similar results. An article from the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics concludes that “although achieving a live birth with NPT may take longer, it has a greater chance of occurring than with IVF.”

NaPro is significantly less expensive than IVF, too, and some NaPro services may even be covered by insurance, since they often treat specific medical conditions (like endometriosis and PCOS), which are often also the root causes of infertility. Some NaPro infertility patients may not even require surgical procedures to treat their infertility—which makes the costs of NaPro significantly cheaper than the costs of IVF—but even for those who do require surgical NaPro procedures, doctor and hospital fees are likely still less than the cost of a single round of IVF (and again, may also have a better chance of being covered by insurance than IVF procedures).

Of course, just like IVF, NaPro is not a “silver bullet” solution for every couple experiencing every single (or multiple) causes of infertility. But given the success rates of NaPro with treating multiple of the most common causes of infertility, and its significantly lower costs compared to IVF, those are odds I would (and did!) take, when faced with the emotional and physical burden of infertility. 

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