Too much information? You can now watch your embryos growing via an app

Paul and Sarah Hay, whose baby Oliver was delivered via IVF last November.
Paul and Sarah Hay, whose baby Oliver was delivered via IVF last November. Photo: Jamila Toderas

As more and more parents come under fire for 'helicopter parenting' - the practice of paying extremely close attention to a child's experiences and problems - a new mobile app released by Canberra fertility specialists Genea is about to take things to a whole new level.

Genea's new Grow app is giving parents control of their babies before they've even become babies.

Couples undertaking IVF can log in to the Grow app and watch multiple embryos minute-by-minute for the first crucial five days following fertilisation.

Dr Tween Low with the new GERI incubator, which captures an image of growing embryos every five minutes.
Dr Tween Low with the new GERI incubator, which captures an image of growing embryos every five minutes. Photo: Jamila Toderas

A single image of a patient's growing embryos is captured every five minutes, providing a mini timelapse video for parents to watch at the end of the hour. And no need for grandma to miss out on the process - each mini video is shareable via email to friends to family.

A number of Canberra families are trialling the app, keeping a very close eye on their embryos as the minutes become hours and then days.

While the app might be in the "too much information" or even Big Brother categories for some, Genea fertility specialist Dr Tween Low said it provided critical information to parents during a typically stressful period.

"There is so much unknown in those first five days and there is so much uncertainty for women around what is happening to their eggs," Dr Low said.

"There are so many questions - 'have my eggs fertilised? Have they made it to a day three embryo? How many do I get at the end of this?'

"It's one hurdle after another. Some people don't want to know and that's fine with them, they don't need to know - but some people really want to understand everything and it gives them a sense of control over the process."

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Dr Low - who has assisted with more than 1000 successful pregnancies in Canberra over the past 12 years and is referred to by former clients as "Aunty Tween" - said the introduction of a new Genea Embryo Review Incubator (GERI) in early 2016 had provided the first idea for the mobile app.

Thanks to GERI, Genea scientists could log in from home to monitor an embryo's progress through images captured every five minutes. It made sense to allow parents to be able to do the same, Dr Low said.

"The great thing about GERI is we don't actually take the embryo out and look at it under the microscope, so the incubator provides a stable environment for the embryos to grow in," she said.

"The timelapse camera takes pictures of the embryo so we can actually see that the embryo has developed from two cells to four cells to eight cells to 16 cells and beyond.

"So now, not only the scientists can look at how the embryos are doing, the patients can also see what the scientists see."

Canberra mum Sarah Hay, whose baby Oliver was born via IVF in November last year, said she had been "beside herself" in the critical five days after fertilisation of her eggs. She remembered Googling and researching constantly, and even visualising her embryos and singing to them to try to pass the time.

"When you're waiting for news on any stage of the process, it can feel like a year passes in a day, it's ridiculous ... it feels like an eternity," Mrs Hay said.

"You can feel quite disconnected from the whole thing, once they've got the eggs, you're waiting around on tenterhooks for some information - they've got to call you, you're wondering about it, you're trawling the internet wondering what the embryos look like."

The Hays have this week commenced a new round of IVF in the hopes of providing a brother or sister for Oliver. Mrs Hay described the daily injections required to stimulate her ovaries as the "pinchy pinchy stab stab" phase.

"You have to try to have a sense of humour about it," she said.

"You have to make friends with the whole process and it's much easier if you can have your head in the right place.

"Will I use the Grow app when we get to that point? Absolutely. I'm that kind of person that can't get enough information, the more I know about my potentially growing baby every single minute the better."