How to Explain IVF to Children

By Anise Hunter
Explaining IVF involves explaining an alternative method of conception
Explaining IVF involves explaining an alternative method of conception

IVF or in vitro fertilization is a process whereby eggs are extracted from a woman, usually the person who will be the mother of the child. These eggs are fertilized by sperm from a man, usually the person who will be the father of the child. Fertilization occurs outside the woman’s body, and one or more embryos are implanted into the woman. While many children understand the basics of conception, it can be challenging to explain the mechanics of IVF and the reasons people choose IVF.

In all forms of conception, a woman's body is the place where the developing baby grows.
In all forms of conception, a woman's body is the place where the developing baby grows.

Introduce the topic of conception. Depending on your child’s understanding of his or her body, you may need to explain that a baby grows inside a woman’s uterus. Usually, a baby gets into the woman’s uterus because it forms there when a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman meet. The woman’s body is a home for the growing baby, and the baby comes out into the world when it is ready to breathe, eat, and interact with the world around it.

Introduce alternate methods of conception. Babies are made in different ways. Sometimes the sperm and the egg are placed together outside the body in an environment that allows them to grow. The woman spends time getting her body ready to be pregnant. She takes pills that stop her usual menstrual cycle, and she gets injections that help her body get ready to make eggs to make the baby. When the eggs are ready, the doctors retrieve them from the ovaries. At this time, the man gives some of his sperm and the doctors join the sperm and the egg. An embryo begins to grow.

When the embryo is just a few cells, it is transferred into the mother.
When the embryo is just a few cells, it is transferred into the mother.

Talk about the transfer of the embryo into the body. Discuss the woman’s uterus as a home for any baby, IVF or not. When the embryos have 4 to 10 cells, they are transferred into the mother’s body. Doctors place a tube into the mother’s body so that the embryos can get into the uterus. For the rest of the pregnancy, the baby grows inside the woman’s uterus like any other baby.

Answer children’s questions about why someone would choose IVF. Some people choose IVF because they waited a long time for the eggs and the sperm to make a baby, and they want to make sure that they can have a baby to love. In some cases, the egg or the sperm may come from someone who has volunteered to give their eggs or sperm to the people who want to have the baby. For example, sometimes parents would like to have a baby but they are worried that their baby might have an illness that one of the parents has as well. They might ask someone else to give eggs or sperm to help make the baby.

Remind the children that using IVF does not affect the amount of love that parents have for their children or that children have for other members of their family. IVF is one way to make a family. Families are made in many different ways, and children who are conceived through alternative methods of conception are just as loved as children who are conceived through sexual intercourse.

About the Author

Anise Hunter began writing in 2005, focusing on the environment, gardening, education and parenting. She has published in print and online for "Green Teacher," Justmeans and Neutral Existence. Hunter has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of British Columbia and a Master of Resource Management in environmental science from Simon Fraser University.