Freezing embryos until mom is ready to get pregnant proves successful

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DENVER — It’s the little moments with baby Gabi that make Julie and Sam Wolfson feel so grateful.

The couple from Littleton spent years trying to get pregnant, and then turned to in vitro fertilization — a process were doctors joined the egg and sperm in a lab, and transferred the embryo into her uterus.

“You wouldn’t know that she was made in a lab and not in a bedroom like most others,” said Julie Wolfson with a laugh.

The process worked, but it took multiple tries, and the couple says they had better luck when they gave Julie’s body time to recuperate from all the hormones and shots she’d taken, then transferred an embryo that had been frozen and thawed.

It turns out they are not alone.  Dr. William Schoolcraft, the medical director at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, says his clinic now does many more frozen transfers than fresh.

“Frozen is better, healthier, more successful, safer” Schoolcraft said.  “It’s a big mental change for doctors and patients.”

He said the clinic is having amazing results.  “For the last two years all of our success rates at every age group were better with frozen than fresh cycles.  So it’s just been a complete flip,” Schoolcraft said.

So what’s behind the shift to frozen embryos?  Doctors say the freezing process has  improved in recent years.

Many are now using a process called vitrification, and it’s less harsh on the embryos.  Plus, if patients are using frozen embryos, they can take some extra time to let their body get back to normal after using all those fertility drugs.

“The uterine lining is exposed to all these high levels of hormone that make it not so friendly for the embryo,” Schoolcraft said.  “So if we can take out the eggs, and create embryos, freeze them, wait a month and put the embryos back when the uterus has a perfect hormone environment, we see higher pregnancy rates and actually less pregnancy complications.”

In 2011 CCRM performed 477 frozen embryo transfers.  The women ages 35 to 42 had significantly higher implantation rates and live birth rates than those who chose fresh transfers.

CCRM said research from around the world suggests that in vitro pregnancies after frozen embryo transfers are more similar to natural conception pregnancies.

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