What to Expect During an Egg Retrieval

Whether as part of the process of in vitro fertilization, because you are an egg donor, or because you are considering freezing your eggs for later use, undergoing an egg retrieval is likely to raise some questions in your mind. Understanding how the process works can help set your mind at ease.

Egg storage for IVF
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To begin, most women who undergo egg retrieval start the process by taking a medication to bring one or more follicles to maturity. Once egg follicles reach a particular size, as determined by ultrasound, you will be ready to undergo egg retrieval. Each clinic will have its own criteria for determining what that appropriate size is, although 16 mm seems to be average. Once the healthcare provider feels that you have reached the criteria to proceed to the egg retrieval, she will order an injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone, to finalize growth and maturation of the eggs. This injection is very carefully timed so that the egg retrieval will occur at the optimal time just before ovulation occurs.

How It Works

An egg retrieval typically takes place under some form of sedation, so you will not feel any pain. A needle is attached to an internal ultrasound probe, which is inserted into the vagina. The healthcare provider uses the ultrasound to see the ​ovaries and locate the ovarian follicles. The needle punctures each follicle, and a gentle suction is applied to remove the egg and fluid within the follicle. An embryologist then evaluates the fluid and finds the egg.

How to Prepare

If the procedure will happen under anesthesia, you may be asked to abstain from eating or drinking for 8 to 10 hours beforehand. You will be asked to remove contact lenses, jewelry, and nail polish. The anesthesiologist and/or nurse will meet with you prior to the procedure to get some basic medical information and start an IV. Once settled in the operating room, you will be given some medicine, either through the IV or a face mask, to make you go to sleep.

Will the Egg Retrieval Hurt?

If anesthesia is given, you will be sleeping and not feel anything during the procedure. Afterward, you may notice some cramping similar to menstrual cramping. The healthcare provider may prescribe pain medication, although Tylenol (acetaminophen) is usually sufficient to relieve any discomfort.

After the Egg Retrieval

Your healthcare provider will most likely start you on a series of medications, including an antibiotic to prevent infection, a steroid to reduce any inflammation in the reproductive organs, and hormonal supplements to provide extra support to the endometrial lining if you will be having an embryo transfer. It is important to take these medications exactly as prescribed. You may be asked to refrain from sexual intercourse for a period of time or avoid submerging yourself in water (such as taking a bath). Use a pad, not tampons, to deal with any vaginal bleeding.

Keep an eye out for the following symptoms and promptly report them to your healthcare provider, should they occur:

  • Temperature above 101 F
  • Severe abdominal pain or swelling
  • Severe nausea or vomiting that doesn’t go away
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking through a pad in an hour; some light bleeding is normal)
  • Difficulty urinating, or painful urination
  • Fainting or dizziness
1 Source
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  1. Ludwig AK, Glawatz M, Griesinger G, Diedrich K, Ludwig M. Perioperative and post-operative complications of transvaginal ultrasound-guided oocyte retrieval: prospective study of >1000 oocyte retrievals. Hum Reprod. 2006;21(12):3235-40. doi: 10.1093/humrep/del278

Additional Reading
  • Speroff, Leon; Glass, Robert; and Kase, Nathan. Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility. 6th Edition. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Philadelphia: 1999. p1137.

By Nicole Galan, RN
Nicole Galan, RN, is a registered nurse and the author of "The Everything Fertility Book."