Women who wait up to six months for fertility treatment have similar rates of live births to those who are treated within three months, according to data from an IVF clinic in the US.
The research team, led by Dr Glenn Schattman at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, analysed data from 1790 women who had their first cycle of IVF treatment between 2012 and 2018. All the women had low levels of a hormone that indicates a reduced pool of remaining eggs, known as low ovarian reserve.
In the paper the researchers said, 'these results are reassuring to patients who may feel anxious to begin their treatment and become frustrated when unexpected delays occur'.
The research comes at a time when many have experienced delays to IVF treatments due to the coronavirus pandemic, with countries cancelling or postponing procedures that are considered non-essential. As fertility is known to decline with age many people are concerned that delays will reduce their chances of having a baby.
The results showed that the live birth rate was similar in women who started their IVF cycle between one and 90 days after their first clinic visit, as 91-180 days after, suggesting that short delays in fertility treatment do not affect the chances of having a baby.
Researchers also looked at the impact of delayed treatment on women over 40 and those who had an extremely low ovarian reserve. These women are less likely to respond to hormones that stimulate egg production in IVF. However, there was no difference in live birth rates in women in these groups who had immediate or delayed treatment.
While the results are reassuring, the researchers point to several limitations of their study. Women who experienced a delay of more than 180 days were not included in the study so the impact of longer-term delays is still not understood. The study also only included women on their first IVF cycle.
In addition, the average age of women in the study was 39 so results from this study may only apply to older women who have reduced fertility. The research doesn't tell us how delays might affect younger women. Moreover when clinics reopen there will be reduced capacity and a backlog of cases, meaning that some women may experience delays of over six months.
The study was published in the journal Human Reproduction.