The egg retrieval is a pivotal moment in the IVF process—all those nights of shots to stimulate your ovaries lead up to this. Congrats! It’s an IVF milestone, and it’s worth celebrating how far you’ve come.

But first things first about the egg retrieval…it’s not as scary as it seems. Here’s what you need to know about the procedure itself—take it from someone who’s done four of them—and an overview of how to prepare and what recovery might be like for you.

What is an egg retrieval procedure?

Egg retrieval, also known as oocyte retrieval, is the surgical process of removing eggs from the ovaries at the culmination of an IVF cycle. The eggs are collected by a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) (aka a fertility doctor) using a large needle that goes through the vaginal wall, but you won’t feel anything, because you’ll be under anesthesia—or, more specifically, “twilight sedation”—for the quick 15-20 minute procedure. Phew.

The RE will thread the needle through an ultrasound probe (like the one you’ve seen during your monitoring appointments) to get good visualization as he or she places the needle into the ovaries. They’ll then “aspirate” the fluid in each follicle, which contains the eggs, and pass each tube of fluid along to the embryologist, who’s in the lab right next door. The embryologist will examine each tube under a microscope, count each egg retrieved, and put each egg in its own incubator to either be frozen for later use, or injected with sperm to create embryos.

When you wake up (and are a bit less groggy), the staff will share how many eggs were retrieved. You’ll also be offered some snacks and juice as the nurses monitor your stats for the next hour or so in the post-op area until you’re ready to be discharged.

How to Prepare for an Egg Retrieval

Your clinic will give you most of the specific details on the lead-up to egg retrieval, including the time to arrive at the surgery center, when to stop eating and drinking since you’ll be under anesthesia (usually it’s 12 midnight the night before), and what will happen upon your arrival. Typically, you’ll be asked to get to the surgery center about an hour before your “call time,” so to speak, to give you time to change into a hospital gown, start your IV, fill out all your paperwork, and ask any questions before you’re taken into the operating room.

In preparing for an egg retrieval, you’ll also want to:

  • Wear loose clothing since you’ll likely be bloated after the procedure (and before from all those mature eggs taking up space in your uterus, for that matter)
  • Leave all your valuables and jewelry at home, because you can’t bring them into the OR
  • Forego scented items like perfume, deodorant, or hair products on the day-of retrieval. There’s some evidence that certain scents can wreak havoc on eggs and embryos. (I learned this the hard way and was scrubbing off the lotion on my legs from my pedicure a few hours before my surgery. 10/10 do not recommend).
  • Arrange for someone you know to bring you home, since you won’t be allowed to drive for at least 24 hours post-procedure. Also, your clinic won’t let you leave in an Uber with a stranger, so…

What to expect after an egg retrieval

Recovering from an egg retrieval varies by individual, but most can expect to experience symptoms such as: 

  • light spotting
  • period-like cramps
  • pelvic pain
  • fatigue
  • constipation
  • bloating

Side effects from surgery can be but aren’t always dependent on how many eggs were retrieved (i.e. the higher the number of eggs = the worse the side effects).

Some items you’ll want to keep handy while you recover at home are a heating pad, Tylenol or Advil for minor aches and pains, and Gatorade, Smart Water, or coconut water to restore your electrolytes and help with bloating. You’re encouraged to take it easy the next few days—an excuse to remain horizontal for as long as you so desire! Some patients are well enough to return to work the next day.

There aren’t that many restrictions post-op, though your clinic will probably tell you not to drive, use heavy machinery, do an intense workout, or drink alcohol for 24 hours. You also might be told not to have intercourse or put anything in the vagina for up to two weeks as you heal.

If you experience any severe pain, heavy bleeding, spike a fever, or something just doesn’t feel quite right, call your doctor ASAP. An unlikely but possible side effect of an egg retrieval is ovary hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), when fluid from the ovary leaks into the abdomen.
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