What is an Embryo Transfer?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2019
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An embryo transfer is the final step in the process of in vitro fertilization, which is a method of helping women conceive. This step is typically performed after the woman has been given medication to produce several eggs, which are then removed from the ovaries and fertilized with sperm. The result is typically at least one embryo, though most doctors prefer to transfer about four to offer the best chance of conception. An ultrasound is frequently used to help guide the doctor in placing each embryo in the uterus. After this step, most patients are advised to return home to await symptoms of pregnancy, which indicate a successful embryo transfer.

In vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a procedure that often helps couples conceive a baby using their own sperm and egg, though donor sperm can also be used. The first step is typically for the woman to take medication in order to prompt the production of several eggs, which are then taken from the ovaries and fertilized with sperm. The results, which should be a few embryos, are then placed into the uterus. Most doctors transfer between two and four embryos at a time, as this can maximize the chances of pregnancy without increasing the risk of all of the embryos growing at once. This would result in a multiple pregnancy, which has various risks.


A woman undergoing an embryo transfer is often told to have a full bladder before the appointment, as this allows the doctor to clearly see the uterus via ultrasound. A catheter that contains the embryos is then inserted into the vagina, and once it reaches the uterine lining, its contents are squeezed out. In most cases, there is no medication needed for this step, and there should be very little discomfort. In fact, it may feel similar to a Pap smear, especially since a speculum is typically used to help the doctor see the cervix.

Most women can return home directly after the embryo transfer, though many doctors may advise them to rest on their backs for about two hours afterward. They can start looking for symptoms of pregnancy within about a week. Some women find that returning to the normal routine during this time is helpful since it can reduce worry over whether the embryo transfer will be successful. Others try to rest as much as possible, hoping that it will increase their chance of pregnancy. Post embryo transfer actions are typically a matter of preference, since neither resting nor continuing the normal routine seems to have an obvious effect on the outcome.



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