Fertility Blog

Single Embryo Transfer

twins, triplets, and higher order multiples. Over the last twenty years, the incidence of multiple birth has increased nationally. According to the National Vital Statistics Report and the March of Dimes, the incidence of twins has increased by two-thirds, and the number of triplets and quadruplets has increased four-fold since 1980. It is thought that about one-third of multiple pregnancies arise because women are waiting until later in life to conceive; age is a well-known risk factor for multiples. Another third arise from use of ovulation induction with gonadotropins (Pergonal, Follistim, Gonal-F, Repronex) alone. Less than one fifth of multiples are from assisted reproduction techniques (IVF and related procedures). Assisted reproduction in 2003 accounted for 18% of multiple pregnancies, 16% of twins and 44% of triplets 1. The risks to the children of multiple pregnancy are numerous. Low birth weight and very low birth weight are increased in children born as multiples. The chance of low birth weight (<2500g) is increased 8 times in twins. Cerebral palsy is increased 4 times, neonatal death risk by 7 times 2, 3. The risk to the mother from multiple pregnancy is also increased. Pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure, preterm labor, and premature rupture of membranes are all more common with multiple pregnancy 4 . Multiple pregnancy is also expensive. It is estimated that twins alone cost the healthcare system some $600,000,000. There is clear evidence of an increase in parenting stress and divorce in families of multiples 5, 6 . The need to assure our patients of the highest quality care requires that we bear this in mind – the healthiest pregnancy is a singleton pregnancy. Pregnancy requires the cooperation of sperm and egg, accurate transcription of the early genetic code in the developing embryo, a fertile spot for attachment to the mother in the uterus, and a route for getting there. All other factors being equal, pregnancy rates almost double when two embryos are transferred instead of one, and increase again when a third and fourth embryo are added. The desire for high pregnancy rates has driven a desire for more embryos to be transferred 7 . Improvements in insemination technique, embryo culture methods, and transfer efficiency have added substantially to pregnancy rates. Each embryo transferred today has a considerably higher chance of producing a pregnancy than an embryo transferred twenty years ago. Such improvements have enabled us to think about ways to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancy by transferring fewer embryos. The development of blastocyst (day 5 embryo) culture techniques allows the selection of high quality embryos for transfer. The blastocyst stage requires advanced incubation techniques with low oxygen incubators and specialized culture media. A tight quality control system is also required. The blastocyst stage is a more advanced stage in which the genetic code of the embryo is fully activated and working. Only the healthiest of embryos can move to the more advanced stages, allowing selection of the best embryos for transfer. In 2006 the ASRM published guidelines for number of embryos to transfer: These guidelines encourage all of us to transfer ‘just enough’ embryos to achieve pregnancy. Pacific Fertility Center has pioneered techniques of transferring fewer embryos. Last year, in 2007, our program of single embryo transfer in oocyte donation recipients produced a 66% pregnancy rate. The multiple pregnancy rate in this group was minimal. Utilizing a single embryo, two-thirds of patients were able to conceive a singleton pregnancy. This pregnancy rate was very similar to the overall pregnancy rates regardless of the number of embryos transferred. Today half of our patients using oocyte donation elect to transfer a single embryo. Single embryo transfer is not always possible. Our criteria include age and embryo quality. A young woman (under age 35) with high quality blastocyst stage embryos and a healthy uterus can reliably transfer a single embryo and achieve high pregnancy rates. An older woman (over 40) may need to transfer 3 or more embryos to achieve a good pregnancy rate. Because of the higher number of embryos transferred, the risk of multiple pregnancy remains higher in these older age groups9 . Pacific Fertility Center is very pleased to offer these techniques of single embryo transfer as some of the best and most advanced fertility treatment technology available. We are moving closer to our goal of growing families, one healthy baby at a time. Philip Chenette, MD

  1. Martin, Births: Final Data for 2003. National Vital Statistics Reports, volume 54, number 2, 2005
  2. Scher, Ped Res, Vol. 52:671-81, 2002
  3. Rutter, J Child Psychol Psych, Vol. 44:326-41, 2003
  4. Pinborg, Human Reproduction, Vol. 18:1234-43, 2003
  5. Griesinger, Hum Reproduction, Vol. 19:1239-1241, 2004
  6. Glazebrook, Fertil Steril, Vol. 81:505-11, 2004
  7. Paulson RJ, Fertil Steril., Vol. 53:870-874 , 1990
  8. Fertil Steril, Vol. 85, Suppl. 4, 2006
  9. Pacific Fertility Center 2007 IVF Statistics
Posted on October 3rd, 2008
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