Reducing the risk of multiple births by transfer of two embryos after in vitro fertilization

N Engl J Med. 1998 Aug 27;339(9):573-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199808273390901.


Background: In vitro fertilization is associated with a high risk of multiple births, which is a direct consequence of the number of embryos transferred. However, other factors that contribute to the risk are not well defined.

Methods: Using the data base established by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority in the United Kingdom, we studied the factors associated with an increased risk of multiple births in 44,236 cycles in 25,240 women. The factors included the woman's age, the cause and duration of infertility, previous attempts at in vitro fertilization, previous live births, number of eggs fertilized, and number of embryos transferred.

Results: Older age, tubal infertility, longer duration of infertility, and a higher number of previous attempts at in vitro fertilization were all associated with a significantly decreased chance of a birth and of multiple births. Previous live birth was associated with an increased chance of a birth but not of multiple births. The higher the number of eggs fertilized, the higher the likelihood of a live birth. When more than four eggs were fertilized, there was no increase in the birth rate for women receiving three transferred embryos as compared with those receiving two, but there was a considerable increase in the rate of multiple births when three were transferred (odds ratio, 1.6; 95 percent confidence interval, 1.5 to 1.8).

Conclusions: Among women undergoing in vitro fertilization, the chances of a live birth are related to the number of eggs fertilized, presumably because of the greater selection of embryos for transfer. When more than four eggs are fertilized and available for transfer, the woman's chance of a birth is not diminished by transferring only two embryos. Transferring more embryos increases the risk of multiple births.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Embryo Transfer / methods*
  • Female
  • Fertilization in Vitro*
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Pregnancy / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy, Multiple / statistics & numerical data*
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk
  • Risk Factors
  • United Kingdom