If you’re confused about the difference between the terms IVF and test tube baby, then you might be surprised to find out that they are generally used to refer to the same thing. However, the history of the term actually pre-dates the invention of IVF.
What is a Test Tube Baby?
The term test tube baby is used to describe a child that was conceived with a little extra help from science. Most people who use the term today are talking about babies who were conceived through IVF. However, people were talking about test tube babies before this technique was invented.
Long before we were able to create embryos outside the womb, doctors could still provide a little extra help when couples were having trouble conceiving. One successful attempt was performed in the US in 1884 by Dr William Pancoast.
Sperm collected from a man could be inserted into a woman’s vagina in a process known as artificial insemination. The sperm would still need to make its own way to the fallopian tubes to find the egg, and fertilisation would happen in the woman’s body rather than in a test tube. However, the term test tube baby was sometime used to refer to this process as it was seen as a scientific and somewhat unnatural procedure.
As scientists developed newer techniques to help couples to conceive, the term continued to be used, even though it was often inaccurate. The term is now used to refer to IVF treatment, even though this typically uses a flat petri dish rather than a test tube.
In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF)
The first baby conceived through in vitro fertilisation was Louise Brown, who was born in 1978. The term in vitro literally means in glass. It is used by scientists to refer to processes that take place in the lab rather than in the body.
Media coverage of the event focused on the term test tube baby. Many articles used it in a positive way and celebrated this scientific advance that brought hope to so many people. However, it was also sometimes used in a negative way by people who wanted to highlight the “unnatural” or “unfeeling” nature of the process.
As more children have been born through IVF and other fertility treatments, the stigma associated with it has decreased. More than 6 million babies have now been born thanks to IVF. People have become much more open and understanding about fertility problems and treatments. The term test tube baby isn’t used as often now as it was in the 1970s and 80s, but you may still hear it used to describe IVF and the babies that it has helped to bring into the world.