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If you’re considering in vitro fertilization (IVF) - you may ask, “What will happen to our extra embryos?” In fact, your embryos (fertilized eggs) can be frozen and then transferred to your uterus, or to another woman’s, years later.
Embryo freezing, called embryo cryopreservation, has helped thousands of infertile couples have healthy babies since the mid-1980s. The process of unthawing frozen embryos and implanting them into a women’s uterus is called frozen embryo transfer (FET). Candidates for this process are:
- Couples who undergo IVF and have excess embryos they’d like to use later on. They can have a few more chances at pregnancy without having to endure another IVF process involving hormone injections, surgical procedures, numerous doctor’s visits, and emotional and financial tolls.
- Couples in which one partner must undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment that may destroy their ability to produce healthy eggs or sperm.
- Single men and women facing cancer treatment that may render them infertile. They can preserve their sperm or eggs (gametes) and use donor gametes to produce embryos to be used after recovery.
- Infertile couples and single women can use donor embryos to become pregnant.
Most frozen donor embryos come from couples undergoing IVF treatment. For emotional, religious or ethical reasons, some don’t want to destroy (thaw and not use) their excess embryos. Some opt to donate their embryos to infertile couples or for research.
Those donating and receiving embryos must work with a lawyer specializing in third-party reproduction to protect their individual rights and the potential child’s rights.
Embryos can be frozen from one to six days after fertilization. The freezing process involves mixing the embryos with a solution that prevents ice crystals from forming between the cells, which can destroy them. The embryos are then placed in glass viles which are secured in liquid nitrogen freezers and are cooled slowly to -196° C (-400°F). When needed, the embryos are thawed, and bathed in solutions to remove the freezing cryoprotectants.
Frozen embryos can stay in the deep freeze for about 10 years and still be viable. However, many do not survive the freezing and thawing. And those that do are not as hearty as fresh embryos, and have lower pregnancy success rates. Up to four embryos are usually implanted during transfers to increase the chances that one will develop successfully. In 2005, about 28% of frozen embryo transfers resulted in a live birth.
Learn more about your options by reading these articles.
To connect with a fertility doctor who specializes in the latest techniques of embryo cryopreservation, contact our Patient Care Coordinators by calling 1-855-955-BABY (2229) or by filling out the Contact Fertility Doctors Near Me form.