Assisted hatching of fertilised eggs to improve the chances of pregnancy in assisted conception (IVF and ICSI)

Assisted hatching is a technique sometimes used for IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and similar procedures. It involves thinning the coat surrounding the fertilised egg, or making a hole in it. It is suggested that this may improve the chance of the embryo attaching to the womb so that pregnancy can begin. In this review of randomised controlled trials there was no evidence of a benefit in the live birth rate with assisted hatching although there was an increase in multiple pregnancy rates. There was some evidence that assisted hatching improves the chances of pregnancy in women for whom IVF has been repeatedly unsuccessful, but more research is needed.

Authors' conclusions: 

This update has demonstrated that whilst assisted hatching (AH) does appear to offer a significantly increased chance of achieving a clinical pregnancy, the extent to which it may do so only just reaches statistical significance. The 'take home' baby rate was still not proven to be increased by AH. The included trials provided insufficient data to investigate the impact of AH on several important outcomes. Most trials still failed to report on live birth rates.

Read the full abstract...

Failure of implantation and conception may result from an inability of the blastocyst to escape from its outer coat, which is known as the zona pellucida. Artificial disruption of this coat is known as assisted hatching and has been proposed as a method for improving the success of assisted conception by facilitating embryo implantation.


To determine the effect of assisted hatching (AH) of embryos from assisted conception on live birth and multiple pregnancy rates. 

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Specialised Register (August 2012), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (August 2012), MEDLINE (1966 to August 2012) and EMBASE (1980 to August 2012).

Selection criteria: 

Three authors identified and independently screened trials. We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of AH (mechanical, chemical or laser disruption of the zona pellucida prior to embryo replacement) versus no AH that reported live birth or clinical pregnancy.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three authors independently performed quality assessments and data extraction.

Main results: 

Thirty-one trials reported clinical pregnancy data, including 1992 clinical pregnancies in 5728 women. There was no significant difference in the odds of live birth in the AH group compared with the control group (9 RCTs; odds ratio (OR) 1.03, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.85 to 1.26, moderate quality evidence), with no evidence of significant heterogeneity (P = 0.38) or inconsistency (I2 = 6%). Analysis of the clinical pregnancy rates from the nine studies which reported live birth showed a non-significant result (OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.25 ).

Analysis of all of the studies included in this update (31 RCTs) showed that the clinical pregnancy rate in women who underwent AH was slightly improved, but the level only just reached statistical significance (OR 1.13, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.27, moderate quality evidence). However, it is important to note that the heterogeneity for this combined analysis for clinical pregnancy rate was statistically significant (P = 0.001) and the I2 was 49%. Subgroup analysis of women who had had a previous failed attempt at IVF found improved clinical pregnancy rates in the women undergoing AH compared with the women in the control group (9 RCTs, n = 1365; OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.81) with I2 = 20%.

Miscarriage rates per woman were similar in both groups (14 RCTs; OR 1.03, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.54, P = 0.90, moderate quality evidence). Multiple pregnancy rates per woman were significantly increased in women who were randomised to AH compared with women in the control groups (14 RCTs, 3447 women; OR 1.38, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.70, P = 0.004, low quality evidence).