In these trying times, many infertility patients are contemplating waiting or proceeding with infertility treatments during COVID-19. Some patients are torn between wanting to get pregnant as soon as possible and not delay conception, especially those over 35 years of age, and yet they’re concerned about the additional stress of being pregnant during the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Although at this point there does not seem to be any increase risk of miscarriage, fetal malformation or major obstetrical complication, some patients want to wait until “things quiet down.” One option with this group of patients is to undergo an IVF cycle, retrieve eggs, inseminate them, grow them to blastocysts and cryopreserve all of the healthy embryos. In addition to this set of patients there are other circumstances where embryos need to be cryopreserved. Cryopreserved embryos are very stable and can be stored for many years, possibly decades.
Are Success Rates Higher with Frozen or Fresh Embryos?
Cryopreserving embryos has become extremely efficient and successful. Nearly 100% of embryos that we deem suitable for cryopreservation will survive the freeze and thaw process to yield a normal embryo with a high chance of success. Analysis of our own internal data has shown that pregnancy rates using cryopreserved embryos are equal to and perhaps higher than using fresh embryos. In women under the age of 35, frozen embryo transfer success rates approach 55% to 60%. Women between ages 35 and 38 pregnancy rates approach 50%.
Is Freezing Embryos Safe?
The ability to cryopreserve embryos which is both safe and highly effective in helping couples achieve a successful pregnancy has been one of the great advancements in IVF over the last decade. This improvement is due to two factors.
1.The development of new method of freezing embryos called vitrification has become the standard way to freeze embryos in highly sophisticated IVF labs. This process causes the water in the embryos to be replaced by an inert substance which creates a very stable embryo.
2. Over the last decade, the Fertility Centers of New England and other top IVF centers in this country and throughout the world grow all embryos for 5-6 days to blastocysts prior to cryopreservation. In the old days we would freeze embryos when they were 4 to 8 cells and we truly did not know which embryos were best to freeze. Now we grow all the embryos for 5-6 days until they are blastocysts. At this stage they have differentiated into placental and fetal tissue and we are truly able to tell which embryos have the highest chance of freezing, thawing, and yielding a healthy child.
Do Frozen Embryos Lead to Healthier Offspring?
In addition to high pregnancy rates, the use of cryopreserved embryos has not been found to be associated with any increased risk of malformations or childhood development delays. In fact, recent studies have revealed a lower chance of malformation in the offspring from cryopreserved embryos than if the couple conceives on their own.
An important part of successful pregnancies is being sure that the embryo and the lining of the uterus are synchronized. This is actually much easier to do in a frozen embryo transfer cycle than a fresh cycle.
Whether you are waiting or proceeding with infertility treatments during COVID-19, we are here to help. We are committed to continue care for our patients. We remain focused, as always, on providing you with individual care that centers on you. If you have questions, please contact us. We are here to help.