Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET)

If you have undergone fertility treatments, you and your partner may have extra embryos that have not been used during your cycles. This can lead to the natural question of just what happens to these embryos. Well, extra embryos can actually be stored and used later on if you decide to pursue further fertility treatments. Known as Frozen Embryo Transfer, this procedure allows you to thaw and use any remaining embryos after they have been frozen and stored.

What is Frozen Embryo Transfer?
Frozen embryo transfer is a fertility treatment procedure that was introduced in the 1980s. It allows you to store your embryos in a special freezing chamber until you are ready to try fertility treatments again or if you decide to conceive another child. FET thaws your remaining embryos and then implants them into your uterus.

Why Do Couples Choose Embryo Transfer?
FET is often a popular choice for couples that have already undergone previous IVF procedures. During IVF, you and your partner contributed eggs and sperm to create numerous embryos. However, IVF treatment cycles only use a small number of these embryos, leaving many viable embryos unused. Numerous couples do not wish to destroy these embryos or donate them to science. Through FET, couples have the opportunity to use their remaining embryos in the future.

FET is also chosen by couples who pursue embryo donation. Some couples are unable to produce their own viable embryos, but are still able to carry a pregnancy to term. Embryo donation gives these couples frozen embryos to use in order to achieve a pregnancy. These embryos need to be implanted using the frozen embryo transfer procedure.

Who Can Use Frozen Embryo Transfer?
FET is not for everyone. Women who are unable to carry a pregnancy to term due to uterine factors or other reproductive disorders should not pursue frozen embryo transfer. FET is often highly successful in women who have ovulation disorders but no factors that would otherwise interfere with carrying a developing embryo in their uterus.

Embryo Thawing
Only embryos frozen using cryopreservation methods similar to those employed in egg freezing can be utilized during the FET process. Before your embryos can be transferred into your uterus, they must be thawed out by your fertility specialist.

  • The glass tubes containing your embryos are removed from the freezer.
  • The embryos are allowed to come slowly to room temperature.
  • Your embryos are washed in four separate solutions. This removes the cryoprotectant that protected them during the freezing process.
  • Your embryos are brought up to 37° Celsius (body temperature) and a culture medium is added to them.

The Frozen Embryo Transfer Procedure

The FET procedure is actually fairly straightforward. It is very similar to the procedure used during IVF treatment: your body is first monitored (in order to pinpoint the best time for implantation) and then your embryos are implanted into your uterus.

Monitoring Your Body
Before your embryos can be implanted, your fertility specialist needs to find out the best time to begin the FET procedure. Usually, women undergoing FET will receive special fertility drugs to help prepare their bodies for pregnancy. This will help your uterine lining to develop enough in order to provide a safe home for your embryos. You will also be given four or five ultrasounds to help determine the best time to begin FET. Your fertility specialist will attempt to match the time of your cycle to the age of your embryos in order to ensure the best chances for pregnancy.

During this time, you and your fertility specialist will also decide how many embryos to transfer. Typically, three or four embryos are implanted into the uterus. This helps to increase the chances of pregnancy, although it also increases the risks of a multiple pregnancy.

The Transfer
When you have reached the ideal point in your menstrual cycle, your fertility specialist will perform the transfer. The FET procedure only takes a few minutes and is relatively painless.

  • A catheter is placed into your cervix and up into your uterus.
  • A syringe carrying your embryos is attached to the catheter.
  • The embryos are injected into the catheter and deposited in your uterus.

After the FET Procedure
Immediately after the transfer you will be asked to remain lying down for 30 minutes or so. This will allow the embryos to settle into your uterine lining. You will probably continue any fertility medications that you have been taking. 12 days later you will return to your clinic for a pregnancy test.

Success Rates of Frozen Embryo Transfer
The FET procedure usually offers a success rate of about 20% per cycle. However, success rates can vary, depending upon your age and general health. Success rates are also lowered due to the fact that many embryos are compromised during the thawing procedure. About 30% of embryos do not survive the thawing process and therefore can’t be used in the FET procedure. This is why it is usually suggested that you thaw and transfer more than one embryo.

Costs of Frozen Embryo Transfer
One cycle of FET typically costs around $3,000, however, expenses can vary depending upon whether or not you are using any additional medications. Fertility medications can run upwards of $1,000 per cycle.


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