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Embryo transfer

Embryo transfer, also known as retransfer, is a very simple procedure from a medical perspective. However, for most couples trying to have children, it is a very special moment during their medical fertility treatment, as this is when the doctor inserts the embryos in the woman’s uterus. It is when the pregnancy can begin.

When does embryo transfer take place?

After the eggs are removed from the woman’s ovary (follicular aspiration), they are immediately fertilised in the laboratory by means of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Then are then put in an incubator and begin to divide. The various stages of development include:

  • the pronuclear stage on the first day
  • the two to four-cell stage on the second day
  • the eight-cell stage on the third day
  • the morula stage on the fourth day and
  • the blastocyst stage on the fifth day

It can often be useful to perform the embryo transfer on the third day after the follicular aspiration, that is, when the embryos are in the eight-cell stage. On the other hand, waiting to perform the retransfer until the blastocyst stage is also referred to as blastocyst transfer.

What exactly happens during an embryo transfer?

An embryo transfer takes only a few minutes. It is a routine procedure and can be performed without anaesthesia. In consultation with the parents-to-be, the physician will insert the embryo or embryos into the woman’s uterus in accordance with the legal regulations. To do this, the doctor will use a soft plastic catheter. At this point, the embryos are barely visible to the human eye and are in a tiny droplet of medium – this tiny droplet is inserted completely painlessly into the uterine cavity.

Once the embryos are in the uterus, they can implant in the lining of the uterus where they will continue to develop. The patient can go home immediately after the surgery. 

What should be noted after the embryo transfer?

There are no specific behaviour guidelines after an embryo transfer. It is best for the patient to return her normal everyday life. In the past, women were prescribed rest and several hours or even days of bed rest after an embryo transfer. However, according to more recent findings, this does not have a beneficial effect on the pregnancy rate and in worst cases can even be counterproductive, as long periods of immobilisation (bed rest) can increase the risk of thrombosis. You should, however, avoid nicotine, alcohol and other known unhealthy stimulants, of course. It is also advisable to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Whether or not the embryo transfer is successful depends mainly on whether the transferred embryo has a suitable potential for further development. Once the embryo transfer has been performed, there is little the couple can do to influence the success of the attempt. Two weeks after the transfer, you will be able to find out whether the implantation of the embryo was successful by taking a pregnancy test.

Can excess embryos be cryopreserved?

Excess embryos – i.e. embryos not required for subsequent attempts – are fortunately very rare. If the pregnancy hormone level does not rise following an embryo transfer (negative pregnancy test), it is, however, beneficial for the patient to be able to fall back on cryopreserved (pre-)embryos so that she doesn’t have to repeat stimulation treatment and follicular aspiration. Freezing embryos (cryopreservation) is not normally permitted in Germany under the Embryo Protection Law. However, there may be individual cases in which an embryo transfer cannot be done for certain reasons. In this case, the excess embryos can be cryopreserved for a later attempt.

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