Egg freezing is where mature eggs are taken from your ovaries and then frozen and stored for you to use in the future.
The hope is that these preserved eggs might allow you to have a biological child at a later time, even if your fertility declines with age or is affected by illness.
But how does the egg freezing process work? Are there any risks? And how much does egg freezing cost?
We’ve got the answers to these questions (and more) right here.
In this article 📝
- What is egg freezing?
- What’s the purpose of egg freezing?
- How does egg freezing work?
- Are there any risks from egg freezing?
- What is the best age to freeze your eggs?
- How much does it cost to freeze your eggs?
- Should I freeze my eggs?
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing (or oocyte cryopreservation, in medical-speak) is a process where mature eggs are harvested from your ovaries and then frozen to preserve them. After that, they’re stored in a medical facility until you need them.
If you want to try to conceive with the frozen eggs, they need to be defrosted, fertilized with sperm (your partner’s or a donor’s), and then implanted in your uterus or a surrogate’s uterus. This process is also known as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
What’s the purpose of egg freezing?
Egg freezing is a way of preserving your fertility. It might not be the right time for you to try for a baby now, but freezing your eggs could enable you to conceive later.
There are lots of reasons why you may decide to take this step:
- You’re about to have treatment for cancer. Cancer treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy can impact your fertility.
- You have a medical condition that may make it more difficult for you to conceive, such as endometriosis, sickle cell anemia, diminished ovarian reserve (where the eggs in your ovaries decline in number or quality), or an autoimmune disease such as lupus.
- Your family history. If your mother went through menopause early, meaning there’s an increased risk that you will too, you might choose to preserve some eggs when you’re younger.
- Starting a family isn’t possible right now for a variety of reasons, but you’re worried about your fertility declining with age. You hope that the stored eggs may increase your chances of having a healthy baby in the future. This is also known as “social” egg freezing (i.e. there’s no direct medical reason for it).
- It’s an alternative to freezing embryos. You might have ethical or religious concerns about freezing embryos (fertilized eggs) for IVF.
How does egg freezing work?
Here’s a quick summary of the egg freezing process:
- Screening tests. First, you’ll have blood tests to check your ovarian reserve (the number of eggs in your ovaries), and to screen for infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Your doctor might also do an ultrasound to get a closer look at your ovaries.
- Treatment to stimulate your ovaries. The next step is to start hormone treatment to stimulate your ovaries. This sends them a signal to produce multiple eggs (in contrast to the usual one per menstrual cycle). You’ll also take medication to prevent ovulation, so your doctor can retrieve the eggs from your ovaries before they’re released into the fallopian tubes. The treatment takes around 10 to 14 days. During this time, your doctor will monitor the development of your egg follicles (the tiny sacs where the eggs grow) with further blood tests and another ultrasound. Once the follicles are ready for the eggs to be removed, you’ll take more medication to make the eggs mature.
- Retrieval of the eggs. Egg retrieval takes place at your doctor’s office or the fertility clinic. You’ll be sedated, so the procedure won’t hurt. Your doctor will insert an ultrasound wand into your vagina to identify the right follicles in your ovaries. Then, again going through the vagina, they’ll insert a long thin needle with a suction device to remove the eggs from their follicles. They can harvest multiple eggs during the same procedure—you might have as many as 15 in one cycle.
- Freezing. Shortly after the eggs have been retrieved, they’re frozen, usually via a method called vitrification. It uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the eggs really quickly, and substances called cryoprotectants are used to help stop ice crystals from forming during the process. Vitrification gives eggs a much better chance of survival than older, slower methods of freezing.
Are there any risks from egg freezing?
After going through the egg retrieval and egg freezing process, most women recover quickly and life is back to normal in a few days.
But, as with any medical treatment, the process does come with possible side effects.
After the egg retrieval procedure, you might experience some cramping. You may also feel a little “fuller” than normal for a while, thanks to your ovaries being bigger after the hormone treatment.
And, to avoid unwanted pregnancy (if you have a partner with sperm), you’ll be advised to avoid having unprotected sex for a week, in case any of those extra eggs are still hanging around.
The hormone treatment to stimulate your ovaries might cause your ovaries to become painfully swollen—a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHS). Mild to moderate symptoms of OHS are easily treated: they include irritability, nausea, headaches, and fatigue.
But it’s possible to have more severe symptoms that need hospital treatment. In extremely rare cases, severe OHS can lead to death.
The major long-term risk of egg freezing is that it won’t result in the baby you’re hoping for. Because the process is quite new, few studies have been carried out to look at success rates.
But the live birth rate for women (aged 38 or under) using frozen and thawed eggs is estimated at 2 to 12%.
What is the best age to freeze your eggs?
The best age for egg freezing is when you’re in your 20s or early 30s—that’s when you have a higher number of healthy eggs stored in your ovaries.
Egg freezing isn’t recommended after age 38.
How much does it cost to freeze your eggs?
In the US, a few states require insurance providers to cover egg freezing costs if it’s seen as “medically necessary”—for example, if you’re about to go through treatment for cancer.
But it’s rare for insurance plans to cover egg freezing for non-medical reasons.
If you have to cover the cost of egg freezing yourself, here are some average figures:
- Screening tests, hormone treatment, and egg retrieval: $6,000 to $10,000 (for one round)
- Egg storage: $600 per year (A discount might be offered for a longer period of storage)
- IVF treatment to conceive using your stored eggs: $18,000
Should I freeze my eggs?
Ultimately, the decision to freeze your eggs is a deeply personal one.
There are many factors to consider: your health situation, age, family history, relationships, career, finances, mental wellbeing.
All these, and more, may influence your choice.
And it’s important to remember that egg freezing isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to have a baby in the future.
If you’re thinking about freezing your eggs, the best thing to do is to talk through your options with your doctor.
They can provide you with the information and support you need to help you make up your mind.
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