Progesterone and IVF: What’s The Deal And Why?

By Jay Palumbo, TTC warrior, freelance writer, infertility and women’s health advocate, former stand-up comic, and proud mother of two

Now, your immediate thought might be, “Girl, I do NOT need more hormones. I’ve got enough!” When it comes to IVF, though, like “Grease” being “the word” in the 1978 movie, progesterone can be the key to having a positive outcome to your fertility treatment (although it’s not as easy to sing).

Progesterone, a hormone produced in your ovaries, is at its highest during ovulation. Progesterone’s most crucial achievement is that it prepares the endometrium, or uterus lining, for pregnancy. Essentially, it thickens the uterus lining to allow a fertilized egg to implant. Progesterone is an integral part of fertility treatment. Who knew?

Why is Progesterone Important for Pregnancy?

As mentioned, progesterone prepares your uterus for pregnancy by thickening the endometrium. If you don’t get pregnant (boo! hiss!), your progesterone levels drop, and Aunt Flo comes to town (that bitch). However, if your egg is fertilized by a sperm (woo hoo!), it will (hopefully) implant into the lining of the uterus. This will signal the production of the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone, which will cause the ovaries to produce more progesterone for the first eight weeks of your pregnancy. It’s like a hormonal domino effect if you will. After eight weeks, the placenta will produce progesterone for the rest of the pregnancy. Go placenta, go!

Why is Progesterone for Fertility Treatment Prescribed?

As you may already know, during your IVF treatment, your fertility doctor will prescribe various medications. One of these medications will attempt to prevent premature ovulation but what sucks (in addition to having to do IVF in the first place) is these medications can affect your progesterone levels. What. The. Hell.

To combat this, your doctor typically will prescribe supplemental progesterone for fertility to make up for the suppression of the progesterone produced by your ovaries. Did you get all that? In short – there’s a whole lot of hormones happening in your body, and it’s a delicate balance. I also suggest eating a lot of chocolate, but that’s just me.

Your doctor will prescribe progesterone a few days after your egg retrieval. These supplements will generally be delivered either by vaginal suppository (have those mini pads on hand!) or injection (ouch). Oral medications aren’t used much these days as studies have shown that only 10% of the progesterone is absorbed when taken that way.

Now that you’ve read all of the above technical stuff, this is how I would describe it in “non-medical terms”: Progesterone helps your embryo stick and develop. JAZZ HANDS!

Are There Risks Associated with Progesterone?

Rest assured that there has been substantial research into the use of natural progesterone for fertility. This research has shown that progesterone poses little risk to the patient or the pregnancy. Moreover, many studies have compared pregnancy rates during IVF, depending on whether or not supplemental progesterone is recommended. These studies have concluded that success rates are far higher when progesterone is prescribed than not. However, if you use a vaginal preparation, it can cause some discharge or localized irritation, because you don’t have enough fun these days with your vagina. Am I right?

Remember to keep your sense of humour AND if you have any doubts about progesterone for fertility treatment, consult with your doctor.

Read more articles from the brilliant Jay Palumbo



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