Fertility and Reproductive Health

On the face of it, reproduction is a stay-at-home proposition. Most pregnant women receive prenatal care from their local obstetrician and deliver their babies at a nearby hospital. But not all couples can conceive a child nature’s way. Couples who have sex for a year without contraception and do not achieve pregnancy are defined as infertile. So too are couples who conceive but, because of repeated miscarriages, have not been able to have a child. Infertility touches many lives; it affects as many as one in every six couples.

For such couples, medical assistance can be a godsend. "Assisted reproductive technology," or ART, brings egg and sperm together in a laboratory. ART procedures generally involve surgically removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries, combining them with sperm in the laboratory, and returning them to the body of the egg donor or a surrogate mother. The world over, ARTs are increasingly being used to overcome all types of infertility disorders—and with great success. Each year, in the US alone, some 50,000 ART babies are born. That’s about 1 percent of all live births, and those numbers are on the rise. Some 5 million babies worldwide are born each year through some form or ART.

Why It Works for Medical Travel

The technology of fertility treatment has developed substantially since the first "test tube baby" was born in 1978. Today, infertile couples can seek in vitro fertilization (IVF) and related treatments in a large number of high-quality clinics worldwide—often at a fraction of the price they'd pay at home. Furthermore, the best international IVF clinics have proven success rates that equal or exceed the averages achieved in the US, UK, and Europe.

There is no such thing as emergency fertility treatment. Thus, infertile couples have time to consider their options and seek out the best—and most affordable—treatment. Since few insurance plans cover fertility treatments, most couples search for low fees in addition to high quality care. While couples can find substantial cost savings (up to 50-60%), they must redouble their research to ensure the selected destination is established and reputable.

Stress also plays a role in the patient experience, as well as success rates! Evidence is mounting that stress reduction for a couple significantly increases the chance of a conception. That means a relaxing vacation, far from the pressures of day-to-day work and family responsibilities, may increase the chances of a successful IVF procedure and a beautiful new baby nine months later. The top international fertility clinics offer soothing surroundings, often in resort destinations, that give patients a welcome contrast to the coldly clinical approach experienced in North American centers.

Where to Go for Treatment

When it comes to fertility treatments, the go-to option for many North American couples is the JCI-accredited Barbados Fertility Center (BFC). With a proven record of success, BFC has pregnancy rates equal to or greater than those achieved in the world’s most famous and well-established IVF clinics. Another prime destination for fertility services is Israel; its IVF centers rank among the world’s finest. The IVF unit at Chaim Sheba is the largest in the country. Assuta, IVF Haifa, and Rabin are well known for their excellence. Couples seeking fertility services should also check out Hadassah, Tel Aviv Sourasky, and Herzliya.

Special Considerations

Fertility is often a touchy subject—highly charged emotionally for both men and women. Desperation to conceive a child can place great strain on a relationship. In some such cases, an objective, clinical, coldly technical atmosphere can be comforting, especially for couples for whom scientific detachment offers a sense of control. However, for others, the high-tech efficiency of some clinics is a turn-off. Whichever category you and your partner fall into, check out an IVF clinic ahead of time to find out what the atmosphere is like. Search the Internet, read promotional brochures, ask around for recommendations, and visit the clinic if you can. If the atmosphere “feels right” to you, then take the next step and learn more. If it doesn’t, trust your instincts and look elsewhere. Since IVF can easily cost US$25,000 or more, it pays to shop around for an environment that feels comfortable to you.

Planning Tips

Infertility has many causes. It’s best to have those evaluated ahead of time so that you can send a complete medical report to your overseas fertility specialist. It’s also important to begin good prenatal care and healthy living before the IVF cycle. Women should have regular checkups to make sure they are in good health and their bodies are ready for pregnancy. They should eat right, exercise wisely, and avoid a long list of hazardous-to-baby substances, including raw sushi, raw meat, unwashed vegetables, certain fish and shellfish, and, of course, alcohol and tobacco.

Hormonal drug treatment to induce multiple egg release has to begin a month or two before an IVF procedure is performed. An overseas clinic may ask patients to arrange for drug treatment through an at-home treatment center, or an overseas facility may deliver drugs to the patient’s home, complete with instructions for self-administration.

Home-Again Tips

If you undergo IVF overseas, chances are you won't know whether you are pregnant until you return home. The best clinics keep in touch by telephone and email. If conception has occurred, they'll celebrate with you and continue to check in with you as your baby develops. If the treatment was unsuccessful, you may consider returning to your overseas center for another embryo transfer. Prior to your first visit, you'll want to arrive at an "what next" understanding should you fail to conceive.

Women need regular medical care throughout pregnancy, and those who conceive via IVF are no exception. Find a good obstetrician and follow his or her instructions to the letter. Your health and the health of your future child depend on it.

Top Facilities

Selected by Patients Beyond Borders' editors, the list below reflects a small group of facilities known for exceptional work in this specialty.

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Last updated on 8 September 2018