In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a widely used assisted reproductive technique that has assisted many couples in achieving pregnancy. The success rates of IVF have improved significantly over the years. However, there are still cases where the embryos are unable to implant in the uterus, resulting in unsuccessful pregnancies, which is where assisted hatching comes into play.

Assisted hatching is a new technique that aims to improve IVF's success rates by opening or thinning the embryo's outer shell (zona pellucida) before uterine transfer. This procedure allows for easier implantation and increases the chances of a successful pregnancy.

Key Takeaways

Understanding the IVF Process

Before delving deeper into assisted hatching, we'll cover how IVF works and why embryo quality plays a crucial role in its success. The process begins with ovarian stimulation, where you'll receive fertility medications to stimulate egg production. The produced eggs are then retrieved and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory.

Once fertilization occurs, embryos start developing over several days under carefully controlled conditions. During this time, embryologists closely monitor their growth and quality before selecting one or more embryos for transfer into the woman's uterus.

Embryo quality is vital because only high-quality embryos have better chances of implanting successfully and developing into healthy pregnancies. However, even with good-quality embryos, there can be instances where they fail to attach themselves firmly to the uterine lining due to various factors such as thick zona pellucida or poor embryo development.

What is Assisted Hatching?

Assisted hatching involves creating an opening or thinning out the zona pellucida using specialized techniques before transferring an embryo during an IVF cycle. This procedure helps facilitate embryo implantation by making it easier for them to break through this protective layer and attach to the uterine lining.

Different methods for assisted hatching include mechanical, chemical, or laser-assisted techniques. Mechanical methods involve using a microtool to create a small hole in the zona pellucida, while chemical methods use acidic solutions to dissolve part of it. Laser-assisted hatching utilizes laser technology to thin out the zona pellucida precisely.

By performing assisted hatching, fertility specialists aim to enhance embryo implantation rates and increase the chances of pregnancy for individuals undergoing IVF treatment.


Who Can Benefit from Assisted Hatching?

Assisted Hatching May Benefit:
✔️Women over the age of 38
✔️Women with a high FSH level
✔️Women with a history of failed IVF cycles
✔️Women with thick zona pellucida
✔️Women with poor embryo quality

Assisted hatching may be a good option for certain patients who are undergoing IVF treatment. Factors that may make someone a good candidate for assisted hatching include advanced maternal age (typically over 35), previous failed IVF cycles, thick zona pellucida observed during embryo evaluation, or poor embryo quality.

Women with reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis may also benefit from assisted hatching due to potential difficulties in embryo implantation caused by these conditions. Additionally, patients with unexplained infertility or those who have undergone multiple unsuccessful IVF cycles despite good-quality embryos might find assisted hatching helpful.

It is important to note that not all patients will require or benefit from assisted hatching. Fertility specialists will evaluate each case and recommend this technique only when they believe it can significantly improve the chances of success.

Risks and Benefits of Assisted Hatching

As with any medical intervention, there are possible risks associated with assisted hatching that patients should be aware of before making a decision. These risks include damage to the embryo during the procedure and an increased risk of monozygotic (identical) twinning due to manipulation of the zona pellucida.

However, it's essential to weigh these risks against the potential benefits offered by assisted hatching. Studies have shown that this technique can increase embryo implantation rates by up to 50% and improve the chances of pregnancy, particularly in patients with specific conditions or circumstances that may hinder natural implantation.

By thinning or creating an opening in the zona pellucida, assisted hatching allows embryos to attach to the uterine lining more efficiently, increasing the likelihood of successful implantation and subsequent development into a healthy pregnancy.

How is Assisted Hatching Performed?

Assisted hatching occurs on day three or day five of embryo development, depending on the clinic's protocols and individual patient factors. It is performed in a laboratory setting by highly trained embryologists.

The most common method for assisted hatching involves a laser that creates an opening or thins out the zona pellucida. This laser-assisted technique offers precise control over the size and location of the opening, minimizing potential damage to the embryo.

Depending on clinic preferences and patient-specific factors, your clinic may use other methods, such as mechanical or chemical techniques. These methods involve using microtools or acidic solutions to penetrate the zona pellucida.

Success Rates of Assisted Hatching

The success rates of assisted hatching vary depending on various factors such as patient age, overall health, underlying fertility issues, and previous IVF outcomes. However, studies have shown that this technique can significantly improve IVF success rates for certain patients.

Research suggests that older patients (over 35) with thick zona pellucida observed during embryo evaluation benefit more from assisted hatching than younger patients without these conditions.

It's important to note that while assisted hatching can increase implantation rates and improve IVF outcomes for some couples, it does not guarantee success in every case. Fertility specialists will assess each situation carefully before recommending this procedure.

Do I Need Assisted Hatching During IVF?

Not all IVF cycles require assisted hatching. The decision to use assisted hatching depends on various factors related to the individual or couple undergoing IVF treatment. Here are some scenarios where assisted hatching might not be necessary:

1. Younger Women with Good Prognosis: Women under the age of 37 or those with a good ovarian reserve and high-quality embryos may not need assisted hatching, as their embryos are generally healthier and more capable of hatching on their own.

2. High-Quality Embryos: If the embryos have reached the blastocyst stage (usually by day 5 or 6 after fertilization) and are of high quality, they might not require assisted hatching. Blastocysts have already begun the hatching process naturally in many cases.

3. Previous Successful IVF without Assisted Hatching: Couples who have had successful IVF cycles without assisted hatching may not need it in subsequent cycles, assuming similar conditions and embryo quality.

4. Concerns about Potential Risks: Although rare, there are potential risks associated with assisted hatching, such as damage to the embryo or increased chances of monozygotic (identical) twins. Some couples or individuals may avoid these risks if their situation does not strongly indicate a need for assisted hatching.

5. Specific Laboratory Protocols: Some IVF clinics or laboratories may have specific protocols and criteria for when to recommend assisted hatching based on their experience and success rates. If their assessment suggests that assisted hatching is not beneficial for a particular case, it may not be necessary.

It's important to note that the decision to use assisted hatching should be made on a case-by-case basis, considering each patient's specific circumstances and medical history. Fertility specialists can provide guidance based on assessing an individual's or couple's likelihood of benefiting from this procedure.

Cost of Assisted Hatching

The cost of assisted hatching can vary depending on the fertility clinic and the specific techniques. It is typically an additional procedure that incurs extra fees on top of the standard IVF treatment expenses.

Your fertility clinic can discuss costs associated with assisted hatching and whether your insurance plan covers it. Some plans may provide coverage for this procedure, while others may consider it an elective add-on that requires out-of-pocket payment.

Alternatives to Assisted Hatching

While assisted hatching can be beneficial for certain patients, alternative techniques are available to improve embryo quality and IVF success rates. These alternatives include pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT), which involves the selection of genetically normal embryos before transfer, and embryo co-culture, where embryos are cultured alongside supportive cells in the laboratory.

Each alternative technique has pros and cons, and fertility specialists evaluate each patient's unique circumstances to determine the most suitable approach.

Choosing the Right Fertility Clinic for Assisted Hatching

When considering assisted hatching or any other fertility treatment, choosing the right fertility clinic is crucial. Factors you should consider when selecting a clinic include:

It's also important to ask questions during consultations with potential clinics regarding their experience in treating patients with conditions or circumstances similar to yours. Understanding their protocols will help you decide whether they can effectively handle your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Assisted Hatching

What is assisted hatching in IVF?

Assisted hatching is a new technique used during in vitro fertilization (IVF) to help embryos hatch from their protective outer layer, called the zona pellucida, and implant in the uterus.

How is assisted hatching performed?

Assisted hatching uses a laser or chemical solution to create a small hole in the embryo's zona pellucida.

Who might benefit from assisted hatching?

Assisted hatching may benefit couples who have had multiple failed IVF cycles, older women, or those with thick or abnormal zona pellucida.

What are the risks of assisted hatching?

There is a small risk of damaging the embryo during the assisted hatching procedure, which could result in the embryo not developing correctly or failing to implant.

What is the success rate of assisted hatching?

The success rate of assisted hatching varies depending on the individual case. Studies have shown that it may increase the chances of pregnancy and live births in certain groups of patients.

Do I need assisted hatching if I'm doing IVF?

Not all IVF cycles require assisted hatching. The decision to use assisted hatching depends on various factors related to the individual or couple undergoing IVF treatment. Assisted hatching might not be necessary if you are young and have a good prognosis, have high-quality embryos, have had a previous successful IVF without assisted hatching, or are concerned about the procedure's risks.

Is assisted hatching covered by insurance?

Assisted hatching may or may not be covered by insurance, depending on your specific policy and the reason for the procedure. Patients should always contact their insurance providers to see if they are covered.