Assisted Hatching is a procedure that is done in tandem with assisted fertility treatments such as IVF. As the name suggests, the process is carried out to help the embryo hatch out of its ‘shell’ and implant in the uterus.
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Assisted hatching is carried out a few days after the egg has been fertilised by a sperm. Before explaining how the assisted hatching technique works, we have to understand the principle it is built on. The egg from the woman’s body has a protein covering around it which is known as the zona pellucida. This shell has different functions in development of the embryo. After fertilisation has occurred, the zona pellucida hardens, to block the entry of more sperm and to avoid premature implantation in the fallopian tubes. Over a few days, the egg will travel down towards the uterus and the zona pellucida covering will begin to thin and then ultimately break down, resulting in the ‘hatching’ of the embryo. If the hatching does not take place, then the pregnancy will fail.
This is where assisted hatching comes into play. The process artificially weakens the zona pellucida, and following are the 3 main ways to do this:
Mechanical: Here the embryologist will use a microneedle to pierce through the zona pellucida tangentially whilst the embryo is held back with a pipette. Following this, the embryo is released and the outer layer of the zona pellucida breaks down because of the friction between the needle and holding pipette.
2. Chemical: In this process, Tyrode’s solution, which is acidic in nature, is applied to the shell. This solution melts a small hole in the zona pellucida.
3. Laser: As the name suggests, in this technique a laser is used to ‘crack’ open the outer layer of the shell.
The procedure, as mentioned earlier, does not ensure success. It may increase your chance of pregnancy but does not increase the chance for a live birth. Success rates also vary greatly depending on your individual case, on the experience of your doctor, your medical history and related factors. Have a thorough consultation with your doctor and understand why or why you would not be eligible for the procedure. If you do undergo the procedure, you will be given antibiotics and/or steroids to reduce risk of complications. These may cause side effects, and you should speak to your doctor about this beforehand and adhere to the dosages prescribed. Lastly, the entire process is very personal and may understanbly cause stress or anxiety. Please speak to a professional or loved ones about any problems you are facing, and always feel comfortable seeking help.