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IVF often produces "excess embryos" embryos of perfect quality that can't all be implanted into the mother's uterus at the same time. Lots of couples decide to freeze these embryos for later use. How long do frozen embryos remain viable?

Frozen embryos

After being given follicle-stimulating drugs, women going through an IVF cycle can produce quite a few mature eggs that are ready for ovum retrieval. Whether you have five or 12 eggs at egg retrieval, you probably won't be having all of the embryos that resulted from your IVF cycle implanted. Many couples will be going through more than one IVF cycle, and depending on the quality of the embryos that were created there could be many spare embryos left. Frozen embryos may be the result, and these frozen embryos can be used in a subsequent IVF cycle. How long can you store frozen embryos and still use them?

How long can you use frozen embryos?

Frozen embryos can stay viable for 10 years or even longer, and studies have shown that IVF outcomes are not significantly different with a frozen embryo transfer than with a fresh cycle. FET are heavier and fatter! The storage procedure is complicated, and frozen embryos are sometimes damaged during the thawing process. Pregnancies have apparently occurred after 16 years of cryopreservation, or storing frozen embryos. In theory, frozen embryos can be stored indefinitely. You should check the laws and regulations about cryopreservation of embryos in your jurisdiction to find out how long you can actually store your frozen embryos.

Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET)

Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) is an IVF procedure that omits the follicle-stimulating phase, and in which a frozen embryo, or more often several frozen embryos are implanted instead. These frozen embryos can be those a couple stored after a previous IVF cycle produced too many good-quality embryos to be used immediately, but they can also be embryos obtained through embryo adoption, or embryos implanted into a surrogate mother's uterus. The success rate of Frozen Embryo Transfer are, according to some, lower than the success rates of traditional IVF in which fresh embryos are used. A recent study suggests that women having FET may actually be more likely to get pregnant, by up to 30 percent. In other words, the jury is still out on this one. The exact success rate will depend on your age, your fertility clinic, and other factors. Discuss your specific success chances with your clinic before going ahead with the treatment.

IVF and "left-over embryos" what are your options?

Many rounds of IVF produce more embryos than are needed, so a large percentage of people undergoing this fertility treatment have to face the difficult decision of what to do with these embryos. Storing them for later use can be pricey, and simply delays a difficult decision in the future for those who don't plan on having more children. Donating embryos for the purpose of scientific research, placing them for embryo adoption with another individual or couple, or having these embryos destroyed are the other options. The decision you make is very personal, but it is certainly wise to consider these questions before commencing the first round of IVF in which potential excess embryos are created, to talk them over with your partner very seriously, and perhaps even to discuss them with a therapist.

Frozen embryos and FET in the news

  • Texas mom Joyce Mallon recently gave birth to her third and youngest child. Andrew Mallon was born in 2012 after being conceived in 2007. His four-year old sister Julianna and two-year old sister Anna-Sophia were conceived during the same IVF cycle in the same petri dish, so they're actually triplets. Their parents like to call them "tripblings". They struggled with infertility for a long time, and mom Joyce said: "I kept saying, 'We waited so long for you,' but really, they waited so long for us. I mean, Anna-Sophia and Andrew just were patient little things and just waited for us. So we look them and think, 'You all came from the same point in time'."
  • Professor Miguel Angel Checa from the Hospital Universitario del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, led the study we mentioned earlier on that showed that women having FET cycles may be up to 30 percent more likely to get pregnant than those having traditional IVF. He suggested that freezing embryos before placing them in the uterus could become a medical recommendation soon!

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