When a woman undergoes an IVF cycle, she is given fertility medication to induce her ovaries to release multiple eggs at a time. This is done with the objective of developing more than one embryo so that the best ones may be selected for transfer to her uterus to facilitate pregnancy.
Since not all embryos cultivated during an IVF cycle get utilized, some couples may have surplus embryos which may be frozen and stored for future use. The number of good quality embryos available for freezing varies from patient to patient and largely depends on the female’s age at the time of IVF.
Many IVF patients today opt for embryo freezing for various reasons – to avoid going through another cycle of super ovulation and embryo culture in case the first one is unsuccessful, or to be able to have a second child later in life. Some couples opt for embryo freezing in their fertile years to get pregnant in the later years when their natural fertility would have declined due to age.
With state-of-the-art infrastructure in infertility solutions and sophisticated embryo freezing facilities, Gaudium Infertility and IVF Clinic has emerged as a pioneer in embryo freezing in India. With best IVF centre of India acclamation from last two years in a row made Gaudium IVF centre as a leader in ART techniques.
In this blog post, we have compiled a list of ten questions about Embryo Freezing frequently asked by our patients, along with responses from our fertility specialists.
What is Embryo Freezing?
An embryo is created when an egg (oocyte) from the female is fertilized by sperm from the male partner. In IVF this fertilization takes place in a laboratory under the careful supervision of an embryologist who selects high quality eggs and sperm for best results.
Once embryo culture is complete, your fertility doctor selects the best quality embryos to be placed in the uterus through a process known as embryo transfer (ET). The patient may then decide to preserve the surplus embryos through embryo freezing.
Embryo freezing, also known as Cryopreservation, is a process where the unused embryos are frozen and preserved in liquid nitrogen for future use. Only the strongest embryos are selected for freezing.
What does the process entail?
The embryos are cooled to very low temperature (-196°C) using sophisticated freezing apparatus. The frozen embryos are then safely stored in liquid nitrogen. There are two methods of embryo freezing:
- Slow freezing method – a cumbersome technique being phased out slowly as it results in the formation of ice crystals that can severely damage the embryo.
- Vitrification or ultra-rapid freezing
Gaudium uses the Vitrification method to freeze embryos and oocytes (eggs). This process enables your embryologist to freeze embryos at such a fast speed that there is no time for ice crystals to form. The entire process takes only about ten minutes.
Thus, compared to the conventional slow freezing method, Vitrification allows for higher embryo survival and implantation rates as it protects the embryos against damage by ice crystals.
Furthermore, Gaudium IVF Centre prefers to freeze blastocyst stage embryos. Blastocysts are embryos that have developed for five or six days, andfrozen blastocysts have displayed better post-thaw survival and pregnancy rates.
What is the purpose of Embryo Freezing?
Embryo freezing may be done to preserve surplus embryos for a future pregnancy.
The process also makes the pregnancy ‘age-proof’ to an extent. For example, a couple in their late 20s or early 30s may opt for embryo freezing to facilitate conception in the later years.
How is a frozen embryo used?
The embryo is first thawed to reach a temperature optimal forembryo transfer (ET). The process of frozen embryo transfer (FET) remains the same as in the case of a fresh embryo transfer.
In fact, for many patients FET turns out to be a more ‘natural’ procedure since the embryo transfer is made to coincide with the woman’s natural cycle, eliminating the need for fertility medication.
However,women with irregular periods may need to be given estrogens and progesterone to prepare the uterus for implantation.
What is the success rate of pregnancy through frozen embryo transfer?
Pregnancy rates from frozen embryos are similar to those achieved from non-frozen embryos. About 70% of frozen embryos are known to survive the thawing process, and FET is more cost effective than going through a new IVF cycle.
Frozen embryos are suspended in time, i.e. they do not age. Thus it is the woman’s age at the time of embryo freezing that impacts the quality of the embryos created, and not her age at the time of frozen embryo transfer (FET).
What are the benefits of a Frozen Embryo Transfer compared to a fresh IVF cycle?
For couples who have had a previously failed IVF cycle or those who want to have a second child, frozen embryo transfer offers the following advantages over a fresh treatment cycle:
– Lower costs as there is no need for ovulation induction, egg retrieval and fertilization
– Fewer medicines as the patient need only take hormonal medication to prepare the uterus for implantation
– A viable solution for couples who want to be safeguarded against age-related fertility problems.
Are there any risks associated with Embryo Freezing?
In the conventional embryo freezing method used in some clinics, there is a risk of the formation of ice crystals which can damage the embryo. If you are considering embryo freezing, do check with your fertility clinic about the freezing methods they use, their frozen embryo transfer success rates, and the associated costs.
Patients also need to know that not all frozen embryos may survive the process of thawing, even if everything is done procedurally as the process requires skill and experience.
What if my embryos get mixed up with another’s during storage?
This is a common apprehension in patients due to the lack of information and discussion about how embryo freezing and storage really works.
Embryo storage is a highly specialized procedure carried out by experienced professionals. The frozen embryos are stored in a state-of-the-art computerized storage facility with round-the-clock surveillance.
The freezing procedure itself is done by an experienced senior embryologist in the presence of a medical team comprising of another embryologist, a laboratory staff and a nurse. The frozen embryos are carefully labelled with patient details (full name, date of birth, date of freezing) and catalogued, and the entire process involves multiple checks by the witnessing team to eliminate human error. The storage records are maintained at two locations for future cross reference.
Every procedure at a reputable fertility clinic is performed under strict adherence to protocol and double-checked at every step. At Gaudium, your embryos are in safe hands and there is absolutely no risk of them getting mixed up with another patient’s.
Do frozen embryos have a use-by date?
If stored properly, frozen embryos remain usable for an infinite amount of time. This means they can be used even 10, 15 or 20 years later.
Also, frozen embryos can be transported cross-country and even from overseas using specialized equipment. At Gaudium, we accept frozen embryos from other locations, including from overseas patients who wish to have a child through an Indian surrogate.
What if I decide later that I do not wish to ever use my frozen embryo(s)?
Storage of frozen embryos entails a yearly fee. You can at any time choose to terminate the storage. Disposing the unused embryos can be a difficult decision and may be taken after due consideration by both partners.
Have more questions about embryo freezing? Our fertility team would be happy to assist you.
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