UK couple conceives and births ‘triplets’ in four-year span: IVF experts explain the science behind it

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While there are many medical miracles, a family in the UK was blessed thrice when they welcomed three babies in a span of four years, via IVF. Why is it so special, you ask? According to an Independent report, the babies were all conceived via in-vitro fertilisation on the same day, at the same time, and with the same batch of embryos — making them triplets!

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The publication reports that Somerset-based couple Karen and James Marks had their first child, son Cameron, four years ago. Then, their daughter Isabella was born two years later. Now, Karen has given birth to their final triplet, daughter Gabriella. This was made possible because after Cameron was born in September 2018, the couple decided to keep the remaining two embryos frozen, so they can expand their family later. Per the report, Isabella was born in September 2020, and Gabriella arrived July 3, 2022.

“It feels so great to have all three of our children now, we feel so incredibly lucky. Some people go through IVF and sadly don’t even get to have one baby, and we’ve managed to have three, so we just feel so lucky,” Karen was quoted as saying. She added, “Gabi was our last embryo, so she’s our last baby now. I knew I wasn’t done before Gabi, so I told my husband if it didn’t work, then we better get saving so we could have another one! I feel complete now, I’m so happy. My heart is very full.”

How does science explain IVF births such as these? And are they common?

Dr Pallavi Prasad, a fertility consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Basaveshwaranagar, Bengaluru, says that this case is not unique, and that other couples “having good quality surplus embryos” can always choose to go for “vitrification” and freeze them for future use. “This will provide them the reassurance of having multiple chances to try for a baby using the frozen embryos. They do not need to undergo a new stimulation cycle if they have extra frozen embryos,” she tells indianexpress.com.

IVF, IVF treatment, IVF babies, in-vitro fertilisation, embryo transfer, embryo freezing, UK couple triplet babies, IVF pregnancy, indian express news Scientists do not yet agree on whether there is a better chance of pregnancy with a fresh or frozen embryo. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

The expert adds that the number of embryos created during an IVF cycle depends on the number and quality of egg and sperm of the couple. According to Dr Prasad, embryo freezing is suitable for:

* Any couple going for IVF treatment, so they can have frozen embryos for multiple attempts or to have babies in future; these same embryos can be used.
* Couples who want to get pregnant later in life (due to issues like financial stability, emotional readiness).
* Couples undergoing treatment that may damage their sperm and eggs. For example, cancer treatments like chemotherapy.

“The cryo-preserved embryos will remain viable for an indefinite amount of time. There have been numerous cases so far, where healthy babies are born from embryos that were frozen years ago (almost 10 years or sometimes even more than that),” the doctor says.

Agreeing with her, Dr Kshitiz Murdia the CEO and co-founder Indira IVF says the frozen embryos are considered a ‘potential’ human life form. “Lab embryologists place embryos in a special machine that slowly cools them in stages. Then, they add cryo-protectants (a substance used to protect biological tissue from freezing damage) and once the embryos are frozen, they are stored in liquid nitrogen at -321 degree-Fahrenheit. The entire process takes about two hours,” he explains.

Murdia adds that scientists do not yet agree on whether there is a better chance of pregnancy with a fresh or frozen embryo. “Outcomes research of frozen-thawed embryos show lower rates of preterm birth, low birth weight, growth restriction and perinatal mortality.”

IVF, IVF treatment, IVF babies, in-vitro fertilisation, embryo transfer, embryo freezing, UK couple triplet babies, IVF pregnancy, indian express news The cryo-preserved embryos will remain viable for an indefinite amount of time. There have been numerous cases where healthy babies are born from embryos that were frozen years ago. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

During one IVF cycle, how many embryos are generally transferred?

Dr Prasad says it depends on the medical history of the couple and the policy of the fertility clinic. “Usually in most cases, where the mother is healthy and does not have any pre-existing health conditions, two embryos are transferred. In cases where the couple already has a child or the mother has medical conditions like heart disease, hypertension, advanced maternal age, or has undergone surgeries like fibroids removal, we advise the couple to only go for a single embryo transfer (SET),” she tells this outlet.

Murdia suggests that transferring numerous embryos into the uterus of a woman in one cycle enhances the probability of a positive pregnancy test, but that pregnancy may not be normal. “Multiple pregnancies are regarded as a difficult pregnancy that has repercussions. This is true even for biologically-conceived pregnancies.” He adds that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advises against “transferring more than two blastocysts or three cleavage-stage embryos in a single cycle”.

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