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An embryo transfer is the final step in the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process. IVF uses medications to stimulate the release of healthy and mature eggs from the ovaries. These eggs are retrieved and fertilized in a lab setting, creating an embryo. From there, the embryo is transferred into the woman’s uterus. Pregnancy happens when the embryo implants in the uterus. 

But how does an embryo transfer work? What should you expect?

Who Needs an Embryo Transfer?

Generally, embryo transfers are performed as part of IVF. This is frequently recommended when an intended parent has fertility challenges, including:

  • Low sperm count
  • Issues with the fallopian tubes
  • Endometriosis
  • Ovulation issues, such as those associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
  • And other medical issues leading to infertility

It may also be used if the intended parent(s) does not wish to not pass on a genetic disorder to their future child. In some cases where embryo transfers are performed, donor sperm or eggs may be used. You will also need an embryo transfer if you have chosen to freeze your eggs and now wish to have children.

What Happens Before an Embryo Transfer

What happens before an embryo transfer depends on the type of embryo transfer being performed. There are various types of embryo transfers, including fresh embryo transfer, a blastocyst stage embryo transfer, a cleavage stage embryo transfer, and multiple embryo transfers. These are explored individually in more detail below.

What Happens Before a Fresh Embryo Transfer

A fresh embryo transfer involves the transfer of embryos that have not been frozen. Fresh embryo transfers typically happen three to five days after egg retrieval. 

Before the transfer is performed, the woman receives medications that help stimulate the development of healthy and mature eggs. Ultrasounds and blood work are used to monitor this entire process, which helps determine an ideal time for the egg retrieval, then the embryo transfer. 

After the eggs are retrieved, they are fertilized with sperm in a specialized lab to develop for three to five days. This time frame allows the embryo to grow into the blastocyst stage, which is the most optimal time for a successful embryo transfer — this is also known as a “Day 5” embryo

What Happens Before a Frozen Embryo Transfer

A frozen embryo transfer takes previously frozen embryos, from previously performed IVF or from a donor egg, and includes a thawing out process, then transfer into the women’s uterus.

Frozen embryos have similar success rates with the benefit of allowing intended parents to plan accordingly. 

In the case of a frozen embryo, genetic testing may also be performed. This can require additional costs, but may reduce the chances of experiencing a miscarriage or your child having a genetic disorder. You may also be able to choose the gender of your baby.

During an Embryo Transfer

Many women compare the procedure involved in an embryo transfer similar to that of a pap smear. Your fertility doctor uses a speculum to open the vaginal walls. A catheter is used to allow the embryos to pass through the cervix and into the uterus. An ultrasound is used to help guide the entire process. 

Usually, the procedure is quick and painless, and does not require freezing or sedatives. After the procedure is complete, your fertility doctor gives you advice and recommendations to follow. Followup blood work is then scheduled for about a week after the procedure, as well as a pregnancy test 10 days afterward.

After an Embryo Transfer

Following an embryo transfer procedure, you may experience some cramping, vaginal discharge, and bloating. Pregnancy results are determined at your follow-up appointment, 10 to 14 days later. The reason for the range relates to the fact that if you “miss” the exact 10 day mark, it is not critical for the determination of your pregnancy. A test can be done on day 12 as well and may be repeated in 2 days to confirm your results. In the early stages of pregnancy, we want to see a doubling of the pregnancy hormone, known as HCG, every two days.

Whereas bed rest used to be recommended following an embryo transfer, this is no longer necessary. It’s advised that you resume your regular activities, but avoid strenuous or intense exercise, extreme temperatures, and intercourse. 

The best you can do is follow the advice of your doctor. Relax and remain positive.

Embryo Transfer Success Rate

Approximately 23% of embryo transfers (using your own eggs) are successful. This means that it may take a few tries to get it right, which is completely normal. Don’t become discouraged if you don’t get pregnant on the first try. For IVF, it often takes two to three cycles to have a successful pregnancy.

How Soon Should You Take a Pregnancy Test?

When it comes to taking a pregnancy test, it is recommended to wait at least 10 days, or until you have missed your upcoming period. However, you may also have a follow-up appointment between days 10-14 that will determine whether or not the embryo transfer was successful.. It is important to note that a pregnancy test may not be entirely accurate within the first 10 days following your embryo transfer.

Whereas bed rest used to be recommended following an embryo transfer, this is no longer necessary. It’s advised that you resume your regular activities, but avoid strenuous or intense exercise, extreme temperatures, and intercourse. 

How To Increase Your Chances of a Successful Embryo Transfer

Increasing your chances of a successful embryo transfer comes down to taking care of yourself, your health and following the guidance of your medical team. Use the tips below to help guide you on where you can improve and what you can do to potentially increase your odds of success before and after your embryo transfer.

Before Your Embryo Transfer

So, how can you best optimize your body to up the odds of success? Consider the following tips, but please note that any drastic changes should be discussed with your medical practitioner beforehand.

  • Maintain a healthy weigh
  • Consider taking multivitamins
  • Find ways to reduce stress in your life
  • Quit smoking
  • Consume a balanced and healthy diet
  • Consider supplements, such as DHEA or CoQ10, and discuss your options with your doctor
  • Check for nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin D, and actively work to fix them through supplementation or sun exposure

After Your Embryo Transfer

As previously mentioned, bed rest is no longer the go-to advice following an embryo transfer. Instead, women are encouraged to continue with their regular activities. The following tips also offer some guidance on what to avoid or do. As always, these tips should not replace the advice given to you by your fertility physician since they know your situation best. After an embryo transfer, consider:

  • Remaining patient
  • Avoiding vigorous exercise, such as running, in the week following your embryo transfer
  • Avoiding having intercourse (and potentially discussing with your fertility doctor when this is okay to do so)
  • Avoiding extreme temperatures, such as hot baths or saunas

At ELITE IVF, we are here for you through every step of your treatment process. We are committed to helping you achieve your family dreams and have been doing it successfully for thousands of patients around the world since 2004. For more information, contact us today and find out how our trusted and experienced team can help you navigate your fertility journey.

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