In-Vitro Fertilization: Experts Say 3 Embryos Too Much, 2 Should Suffice

In-vitro fertilization, or IVF, is something many couples struggling with fertility become intimately- and expensively- familiar with when trying to conceive.

The process can be trying- emotionally, financially and with respect to a ticking clock- and pressures are high on both ends to achieve a result in as few steps as possible. But a new study out of the UK suggests that doctors in the US may be too aggressive in treating patients- an extreme example would, of course, be the case of Nadya Suleman and her octuplets. While her doctor was sanctioned and the practice widely decried within the industry, new research indicates that even the practice of using three embryos should be reconsidered.

Infertility specialist Liv Bente Romundstad, MD, PhD, of Norway’s St. Olavs University Hospital and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology points to the high number of births of multiples in the US as proof that doctors in the country are too quick to use more than two embryos during IVF procedures. A Center For Disease Control (CDC) report in 2009 indicated that as many as 10% of procedures in the US involve as many as four or five embryos, while 23% involve three. The remaining half use two. But one in three IVF births involves twins, with 60% of those births classified as preterm. Romundstad says:

“It is still common in the United States for doctors to transfer three or more embryos. This study shows that three embryos does not result in more live births and it does result in more complications.”

Co-author of the study Scott M. Nelson, MD, PhD, of the University of Glasgow Centre for Population and Health Sciences says that money, not ideal outcomes, is a larger factor in fertility treatment in the US:

“The practice of transferring multiple embryos is very much market-driven in the United States. There is an economic incentive for transferring more embryos in the US, but no sound medical reason for doing so.”

The study concludes that the “clear implication… is that [the] transfer of three embryos should no longer be supported in women of any age.”