When Australia’s first IVF baby, Candice, was born in 1980, it made headlines across the country.
It was such big news that journalists from 60 Minutes interviewed Candice’s mum when she was heavily pregnant, and there was a TV crew in the room when Candice was born.
41 years later, thanks to advances in technology, the birth of a baby with the help of IVF no longer makes front page news.
For the past four decades, Australia has been at the forefront of global advances in IVF technology, including more single births, an increase in births from frozen embryos, and pre-implantation genetic testing, which has boosted IVF success-rates for families across the country.
Before unpacking these recent developments, let’s go back to basics and uncover how IVF works.
How IVF Works
At Fertility SA, our fertility specialists have been providing IVF services to Adelaide families for more than 10 years.
During an IVF cycle, the ovaries are stimulated to produce an increased number of eggs. These eggs are then combined with sperm in our laboratory where they fertilise and an embryo is formed.
Once the embryo develops to an appropriate stage, it is transferred back into the endometrial lining of the uterus in the hope that implantation will occur and a pregnancy will develop.
Any additional embryos formed during the cycle can be frozen for future use.
IVF is often recommended as a treatment option if you have blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, unexplained infertility, or where there is male factor infertility or previous male or female sterilisation.
IVF advancement #1: More single births
A major IVF advancement that has significantly improved the health of both mothers and babies born with the help of IVF is the number of single births.
According to the Assisted Reproductive Technology in Australia and New Zealand 2018 report, the proportion of twins and triplets born following IVF treatment is now 3.2 per cent, a record low in Australia and New Zealand’s 40-year IVF history.
This is because there is now an increased proportion of IVF cycles where only a single embryo is transferred.
“By comparison, the percentage of multiple births from IVF treatment was 8 per cent in the UK and 13 per cent in the US during the same period,” said the report’s lead author, Professor Georgina Chambers.
“IVF represents a significant number of babies, and importantly the majority of these babies were singletons, which is safer for mothers and babies,” she said.
Multiple pregnancies — twins, triplets or more — are often associated with more frequent complications including severe, persistent morning sickness, diabetes in pregnancy, high blood pressure, or early onset of labour.
Babies born from a multiple pregnancy are usually premature, making them more likely to have lower birth weights, and an increased risk of a number of disorders, including jaundice.
IVF advancement #2: An increase in births from frozen embryos
There is evidence that IVF treatment cycles using frozen embryos is leading to an increase in the success rate for births, thanks to improvements in technology and “snap” freezing techniques over the last five years.
A frozen embryo transfer (FET) is a cycle where a frozen embryo from a previous fresh IVF cycle is thawed and transferred back into the uterus.
It means women don’t have to undergo another cycle of hormone stimulation and an egg collection, and it also means women have more embryos available for transfer, and better-quality embryos after the freezing.
According to President of the Fertility Society of Australia, Professor Michael Chapman, treatment cycles using frozen embryos are better than fresh cycles, as the hormonal changes of a fresh cycle made the womb lining “very abnormal”.
“Putting embryos back into a normal endometrium — a normal lining of the uterus — is likely to improve the chances of success, and that’s what we’ve seen,” he told the ABC.
At Fertility SA, we offer egg freezing with vitrification, which is a state-of-the-art freezing technique that minimises damage to the eggs and gives the best opportunity for a successful pregnancy.
IVF advancement #3: Pre-implantation genetic testing
If you have a family history of a genetic disease, or if you’re of an advanced maternal age, pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT) is a recent advancement in IVF that could help increase your chance of pregnancy by up to 65 per cent.
PGT involves carefully removing a small number of cells from an embryo for analysis, meaning that thousands of single gene defects that cause disease can be successfully identified. It can also provide better information on the number and integrity of the chromosomes in the embryo.
At Fertility SA, PGT is undertaken in a standard IVF treatment where embryos are tested at day five of growth.
PGT can test for common genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anemia, to rare diseases such as Denys-Drash Syndrome, Hurler Syndrome or Senior-Loken Syndrome.
“PGT is becoming increasingly utilised as technology is improving and patients are becoming increasingly knowledgeable and aware of their options,” said Fertility SA Specialist, Dr Michelle Wellman.
“Patients also want to choose the fastest route to pregnancy and are looking for answers if they do not conceive quickly.”
PGT is recommended to if you:
- are affected by or carry a known genetic disease,
- have changes with the normal size or arrangement of your chromosomes
- are of an advanced maternal age
- need to prevent the transmission of sex-linked genetic disease
- have had multiple miscarriages; or
- have had a number of failed embryo transfers.
Fertility SA: IVF clinic Adelaide
If you haven’t been successful in conceiving naturally, and would like more information about how recent advancements in IVF could help you, we’re here to help.
Call Fertility SA on (08) 8100 2900 to make an appointment with one of our fertility specialists.