The First Baby Born Successfully Through IVF

31 years ago, Louise Joy Brown was a name that circulated in headlines around the world. Brown was born as the first “test-tube” baby, having been the first human conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Before Louise even entered the world, she was already famous.

English couple Lesley and John Brown had been trying to conceive for nine years. Their fertility issues were a result of Lesley’s blocked fallopian tubes. Luckily, in 1977, Lesley was offered an alternative to natural conception. Doctors Patrick Steptoe, Robert Edwards, and Jean Purdy had been collaborating for a decade to develop in vitro fertilization. Lesley underwent the procedure, which was still experimental at the time. Though she knew this, the doctors failed to tell her that no case had yet resulted in a baby, which raised many questions about informed consent.

The team who pioneered in-vitro fertilization, on the left Cambridge physiologist Dr Robert Edwards holding the world's first test tube baby Louise Joy Brown and (on the right) gynaecologist Mr Patrick Steptoe (1913 - 1988).
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

Regardless, Lesley had one of her mature eggs extracted from her ovaries. The egg was combined with her husband John’s sperm to form an embryo. Contrary to the fact that their baby was known as a “test-tube” baby, the embryo was conceived in a petri dish. A few days later, the embryo was implanted into Lesley’s uterus and they waited for it to begin developing.

While millions of babies are conceived via IVF in the present day, in 1977 the procedure was highly controversial. When news of the groundbreaking procedure got out, eyebrows were raised, as people called into question the ethics and legal repercussions of such a procedure. The Browns faced plenty of public scrutiny for what they were doing. Lesley managed to carry her baby to term and when the time came to deliver, it was done so secretly so as not to tip off the media.

Just before midnight on July 25, 1978, baby Louise was delivered via cesarean section at the Oldham and District General Hospital in Manchester England. She weighed in at five pounds and 12 ounces. Four years later, the Browns had another daughter, Natalie, through IVF as well. When Louise and Natalie became adults, they had children of their own, conceived naturally.