The influence of embryo culture

4cell_embryo.tifAnyone who has had or is having IVF may be interested in some new research published in the journal Human Reproduction which looks at the influence the liquid that eggs, sperm and embryos are put into in the laboratory has on the babies born from the treatment. The liquid is known as the culture medium, and the researchers have found that it has an impact on the birthweight of IVF babies.

At the moment, the manufacturers don’t publish detailed lists of the ingredients of their culture media for reasons of commercial secrecy – but given the impact it may be having on IVF babies, there are now calls for the exact make-up of the culture media to be made public. You can read more details about this here and you can find the research paper itself here.

Fertility problems may be more common than we think…

images-1New research published this week shows that more more than a third of those who became mothers aged 35 or older had experienced a period of infertility and that nearly a fifth of all women aged 35 to 44 have struggled to conceive. The research project included more than 15,000 people and their results showed that 18% of 35-44 year old women had tried to get pregnant for a year or more. Overall, the figure was 13% of women of all ages who had experienced fertility problems.

The research team found that fertility problems were more likely in couples who moved in with their partner later, who were older when they started trying to conceive and who were from a higher socio-economic group. The research also found that many people didn’t seek any medical help for their fertility problems – only just over half reported getting help.

It won’t surprise anyone with experience of infertility to learn that the team found higher rates of depression associated with fertility problems and the research team called for an acknowledgement of the impact of infertility and the availability of appropriate support. The research was led by Jessica Datta from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was published in the Journal Human Reproduction – you can find the full text here

Do you really need ICSI?

images-6If you’d seen the Daily Mail headline earlier this week suggesting that the “Most popular form of IVF given to thousands of couples is ‘ineffective’“, you may well have been worried. In fact, the headline was referring to ICSI which is far from ineffective as a treatment for male fertility problems, and has allowed many men who would otherwise have had to use a donor to have their own genetic child.

The story in the Mail concerned the fact that ICSI isn’t an effective treatment in other cases, and it said that the editor-in-chief of the Human Reproduction journal, Professor Hans Evers, had criticised IVF clinics for offering ICSI to couples who will not benefit from it.

The fact that ICSI isn’t for everyone is not news. The NICE guidance in 2013 made it clear that ICSI should only be used where there were male fertility problems although it could also be considered where previous fertility treatment had resulted in failed or very poor fertilisation. ICSI is sometimes offered more widely, but there is no evidence that this would increase the chances of IVF working, and some research has suggested that it could actually reduce the chances of pregnancy where there is no indication that it is needed.

If you have male factor problems, you can ignore this as ICSI may well be the most effective treatment for you. If you are being offered ICSI where there are female issues or unexplained infertility, then you should make sure you talk to the team treating you about this before going ahead.

Support for parents who are trying to conceive

New research from Cardiff University published in Human Reproduction this week has found that the unfulfilled desire for a child affects women’s mental health, regardless of whether they’re parents trying for another child or childless women. Secondary infertility can be particularly hard to deal with as there’s not much sympathy for those who are already parents and are trying unsuccessfully to conceive again – but there can be all kinds of specific difficulties in coping with secondary infertility which are often overlooked.

Infertility Network UK runs a special group for those who are parents who are trying to conceive again. It’s an informal get-together and a great opportunity to meet others who are going through the same thing and to share thoughts and experiences. The next meeting is in Central London on September 30 and you can find details here. 


Could your mother’s menopause predict your fertility?

Do you know how old your mother was when she reached the menopause? If you’re trying to conceive, it’s a question worth asking.  A new study from Denmark published in the journal Human Reproduction has found that your ovarian reserve – that’s the number of eggs you have left in your ovaries – may be linked to your mother’s age at menopause.

We know that ovarian reserve declines as a woman gets older, but this study has found that the decline appears to be faster in women whose mothers had an early menopause (that’s before the age of 45) compared with those whose mothers had a late menopause (that’s after the age of 55).  Apparently, your fertility starts to decline about 20 years before your menopause – so if you have an early menopause, your fertility will have been affected at an earlier age too.

The authors don’t want to alarm women unnecessarily, and make it clear that their research doesn’t suggest that your mother’s age at menopause will necessarily predict  your chances of pregnancy at a certain age  What they have found is a link between ovarian reserve and your mother’s age at menopause which supports the theory that heredity may play an important role in reproductive ageing.

So, if you are worried about how late you can leave it to have a baby, one factor which you should at least consider is how old your mother was when she reached the menopause. If you find out that she was in her mid-forties, it may be worth thinking about having your own ovarian reserve tested sooner rather than later.

You can read more about the research here