A reader asks, "I keep hearing about mini IVF. What is mini IVF? Is it the same as IVF, or somehow different? Please explain, because I’m confused!"
For the most part, mini IVF, also known as micro IVF or minimal stimulation IVF, is similar to typical IVF in the procedures used during treatment. As with IVF, you have monitoring throughout the cycle, egg retrieval, fertilization in the lab of the egg and sperm, and embryo transfer.
What’s different is how much medication is used to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs. While typical IVF aims to produce several eggs for retrieval, mini IVF uses weaker medications or lower doses of medications to produce only a few eggs.
During mini IVF, Clomid may be used to stimulate the ovaries, instead of gonadotropins. (Gonadotropins include medications like Gonal-F, Follistim, and the like.) Alternatively, lower doses of gonadotropins may be used, with the aim of producing only a couple eggs.
For some women, it’s also possible to do mini IVF with no ovulation stimulation drugs. This is sometimes also known as a “natural cycle.” This wouldn’t be appropriate if there are any problems with ovulation preventing pregnancy, but it may be an acceptable choice in cases of blocked fallopian tubes and some cases of male infertility.
Besides ovarian stimulation drugs, you also may need to take a GnRH antagonist (like Anatagon and Cetrotide), which prevents ovulation from occurring too early, before your doctor has a chance to retrieve the eggs from your ovaries.
Pros of Mini IVF
The biggest pro to mini IVF is cost. A typical IVF cycle costs on average $15,000, depending on what procedures are needed. Mini IVF costs around $5,000 to 7,000.
IUI treatment costs less than mini IVF, but with IUI, the risk of multiples is higher. With mini IVF, only one embryo is transferred, while with IUI, you can’t control how many eggs will become fertilized.
Cons of Mini IVF
While cost is generally lower for mini IVF, if the cycle is not successful, then the costs can actually be greater in the long run.
With typical IVF, if one cycle doesn’t work, you usually will have some embryos left over to freeze, which can be used during a frozen embryo transfer (FET). With mini-IVF, you are less likely to have any leftover embryos for future cycles.
There is also a greater risk of having no eggs to fertilize when using mini-IVF. Not every egg that is produced will survive the IVF process. As an example, with typical IVF, if 10 eggs are retrieved, it’s possible that only 5 may become fertilized, and just 3 may become healthy embryos to transfer.
If you start off with just two or three eggs, and all of those eggs don’t become fertilized or do not survive the embryo stage long enough to be transferred, you’ve lost the entire cycle.
Another possible problem with mini-IVF is that the procedure has not yet be fully studied, so success rates are unclear. In the largest study to date on mini-IVF, pregnancy rates were about 8% per individual cycle, with a successful pregnancy rate of 20% after three cycles.
The Bottom Line on Mini IVF
Mini-IVF may help save money (when compared to IVF) and lower your risk of getting pregnant with multiples (when compared to IUI treatment), but it’s not for everyone and success rates are not yet clear.
Pelinck MJ, Vogel NE, Hoek A, Simons AH, Arts EG, Mochtar MH, Beemsterboer S, Hondelink MN, Heineman MJ. “Cumulative pregnancy rates after three cycles of minimal stimulation IVF and results according to subfertility diagnosis: a multicentre cohort study.” Human Reproduction. 2006 Sep;21(9):2375-83. Epub 2006 Jun 3.