The IVF Process: Embryo Transfer
If you and your partner are waiting to undergo IVF treatment, then you may be a little worried about exactly what to expect with the procedure. There are many different steps involved in the IVF process and it is important to become familiar with each of these steps before you begin the procedure. One of the most important stages of the IVF treatment is the embryo transfer. This final stage of IVF treatment is extremely delicate and vital to the success of the entire procedure.
What is Embryo Transfer?
Embryo transfer is one of the most important parts of the IVF process. It is during this final stage of the IVF procedure that your embryos will be transferred into your uterus, in the hopes that you will become pregnant. Embryo transfer is completed after your eggs have been fertilized by your partner’s sperm and they have been through the embryo culture process. The procedure will be performed at your local fertility clinic.
It is vital that the embryo transfer procedure be performed by a skilled reproductive endocrinologist; if mistakes are made during the embryo transfer process, it can affect your chances of pregnancy.
When is Embryo Transfer Performed?
Embryo transfer is usually performed once your embryos have been cultured to the right stage. Typically, there are two types of embryo transfers:
- Day 3 Embryo Transfer: The Day 3 embryo transfer is performed 72 hours after egg retrieval. Your eggs will be mixed with your partner’s sperm and then allowed to develop for three days. At this point in time, your embryos will be transferred into your uterus where, hopefully, they will implant.
- Blastocyst Transfer: Blastocyst transfer occurs when your embryos have reached the blastocyst stage. This occurs after five days of culturing. Some fertility specialists prefer doing blastocyst transfers because it is easier to choose a healthy embryo for transfer at this stage.
How Many Embryos are Transferred?
Generally, between two and four embryos are transferred during each IVF cycle. The exact number of embryos that you have transferred will depend upon a number of factors, including:
- the number of embryos that were formed after egg retrieval
- the health of your embryos
- your age
- your risk level for multiple pregnancy
The greater the number of embryos that are transferred into your uterus, the higher your risk of having a multiple pregnancy. When multiple pregnancies form, this can seriously affect the health of both you and your baby, so every effort to minimize multiple pregnancies must be taken by fertility clinics. In some countries, such as the UK, there is a limit of two embryos that can be transferred per IVF cycle.
How Is Embryo Transfer Performed?
Your embryo transfer will likely be performed at your local fertility clinic. It is a completely painless procedure, so you will not have to receive any type of anesthetic during the transfer.
You and your partner will be asked to come in a few hours prior to the transfer procedure. At this time you will be asked to drink a lot of fluids in order to increase the size of your bladder. This is needed in order to help your reproductive endocrinologist see your uterus more clearly during the ultrasound portion of the embryo transfer. Your embryologist will also discuss with you which embryos are the healthiest to have transferred into your uterus and how many embryos should be transferred. You and your partner will be able to see pictures of your embryos before the procedure begins.
Once your embryos have been selected, they will be immersed in a fluid and stored in a special catheter. You will be asked to lie down on an examination table and a speculum will be inserted into your vagina. This allows your physician to access your cervix. Your cervix will be cleaned of any cervical mucus, which could interfere with the placement of the embryos. A flexible, rubber catheter will then be inserted into your cervix and up into your uterus. The catheter containing your embryos will then be placed inside of this rubber catheter.
Your physician will perform an abdominal ultrasound in order to determine the best place inside of your uterus to deposit your embryos. This is usually in the space at the very top of your uterus. Once this location has been found, the embryos will be pushed out of the catheter and into your uterine lining.
After the Embryo Transfer
After the transfer procedure has taken place, you will be asked to lie down for two hours. You may experience some cramping, however you shouldn’t experience any other side effects. After two hours, you and your partner can go home. It is usually recommended that you take it easy for a couple of days after the transfer. After 48 hours though, you can resume your normal activities – these will not affect implantation in anyway. You may have to give yourself shots of hCG or progesterone, however, this will be determined by your physician. In 12 days, you and your partner will return for a blood test to find out if your are pregnant.
Typically, most couples have leftover embryos remaining from the IVF process. You and your partner will need to decide what you would like to do with your embryos. There are a number of available options, including embryo cryopreservation and embryo donation. These options allow you to store your embryos for your own future use or to help other couples who are suffering from infertility to conceive.