What Happens to Left Over Embryos?


Whether you use an egg donor or not, the goal of the medical cycle preceding egg retrieval is simple: create as many high quality, usable eggs as possible.

Following the egg retrieval procedure, these eggs will go through a series of phases including fertilization and growth. You are likely to lose one or more eggs, now embryos, at each step over the next several days. This is normal, it’s why the goal is to collect as many quality eggs as possible at the onset of the process. By the time you reach day 5, 6, or 7, you are likely to be left with only a handful of high quality embryos.

Most couples will choose to transfer just one or two of these embryos into the uterus of either the mother or the surrogate on transfer day. In most cases, there will be one or more high quality, usable embryos left over. The question now becomes, “What do we do with these embryos?”

In most cases, there are three basic options: freeze them, donate them, or discard them. This is a choice that is often arrived upon based on many factors and much thoughtful consideration. No decision is wrong, and it is OK to take your time considering the different options.

Given the cost of an egg donor cycle, many intended parents will choose to have these remaining eggs cryogenically frozen. In this instance, couples can pay a monthly fee, usually on an annual basis, to keep the embryos frozen for future potential use. The embryos will remain viable for years, boasting success rates similar to that of a fresh embryo transfer.

Other couples will choose to donate the unused embryos to scientific purposes or to other infertile couples. For many parents through IVF, the decision to donate can be freeing and affirming. Helping other infertile couples to conceive or furthering the overall scientific process can be very valuable. Depending on your state of residency, donating unused embryos can become a challenging legal situation. You’ll want to consider the potential emotional and logistical complications that could arise from donation.

Additionally, some couples may elect to have their frozen embryos thawed without the intention of donating or transferring them into a uterus. This choice can be a challenging one to make, and is often arrived at after much consideration.

No matter what choice you make following the completion of your IVF journey, please know that we respect your unique circumstances. These choices often center around ethical and religious beliefs and can take a long time to process. Taking your time is OK. If you need help thinking through your options for unused embryos, Growing Generations’ Co-Owner and Psychologist Dr. Kim Bergman is available to help guide you through your options.