What’s Assisted Hatching?
Assisted hatching is a technique that is sometimes used as part of in vitro fertilization (IVF). A human egg is encased in a layer of proteins called the zona pellucida. This is like the shell of a bird egg. The sperm penetrates this shell in order to fertilize the egg, but the resulting embryo remains encased within the zona pellucida for several days. In order to implant within the wall of the uterus, create a placenta and begin developing, the embryo must break out of its shell. In assisted hatching, the shell of the embryo is broken in the laboratory; this is believed by some centers to result in improved pregnancy rates, particularly in cases where the embryos might be weak and lack the energy required to break the zona pellucida and implant on their own.
If you’re choosing IVF with assisted hatching, make sure you’re choosing it because you really want it, not to please someone else or to fit an imagined ideal. No one else can make the choice for you; it’s your body, and you’re in charge of it. After you do your research and understand the procedure, if you believe that IVF with assisted hatching is right for you, then proceed. To help you in your decision-making process, we have some information about the risks and benefits of assisted hatching at Assisted Hatching: Risks and Benefits.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential elective procedure with your own doctor(s), including your primary care physician and the doctor who will perform your procedure if you decide to proceed.
How it’s done
Assisted hatching is performed just prior to the embryo transfer step of the IVF procedure. (For more information about the various steps of the IVF procedure, which is complex, please visit our page called In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): the Procedure and Recovery.)
The embryos are incubated in the laboratory for 4-5 days after fertilization occurs. Assisted hatching is performed at the end of this time. The embryo is stabilized with a small instrument, and then a hole is created in the zona pellucida. This can be done with a small pipette filled with an acid solution, or using a special laser. After the embryo is hatched, then it is transferred into the intended mother’s uterus.
Assisted hatching is a somewhat controversial procedure. While some centers have found that it improves pregnancy rates, others have found that the procedure simply adds cost and has no impact on the rate of successful pregnancy. Additionally, there is a risk that the embryo could be damaged during the assisted hatching procedure. Some centers do not offer this procedure, while at others, it is standard.
Preparing for the procedure
Choosing your clinic
When choosing an assisted reproductive technology clinic (sometimes called a fertility clinic), there are several factors you may want to take into consideration. One is the physician(s) and others who will oversee your care. Make sure that your physician is board-certified; you may want to know that a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist (a specialist in the hormones involved in reproduction) is on the staff, as a consultant if necessary. You should also expect that your clinic will be a member of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), and follows the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). You might also want to consider the clinic’s success rates, which are collected and published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but you should be aware that interpreting this data is more complicated than you might think.
For more help in your search for a reproductive medicine specialist, visit our How to Find the Best Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinic page. At Doctor Review, you can also search providers for patient reviews to help you find the very best.
Getting ready for the procedure
Before going through IVF with or without assisted hatching, both the man and the woman will have several diagnostic procedures, blood tests, and examinations. In some cases, other types of infertility treatment, such as ovulation induction (stand-alone; this is also part of IVF) or intrauterine insemination, may be done first, and IVF will only be necessary if these are unsuccessful. Each time that embryos are created or thawed for IVF, the parents can choose whether or not to use assisted hatching.
The recovery from a cycle of IVF that uses assisted hatching is the same as for a cycle that doesn’t use it. See the IVF page for more details.