What is the Egg Freezing Process? All You Need to Know

What is the Egg Freezing Process? All You Need to Know

What is egg freezing?

How does it work?

How much does it cost?

Are there any egg-freezing side effects?

Egg freezing is where mature eggs are taken from your ovaries and then frozen and stored for you to use in the future.

In some cases such as fertility preservation before chemotherapy, tissues from the ovary or immature eggs can be frozen as well.

This is done so that patients have the option to kickstart their fertility journey post their chemotherapy.

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.

So let’s explore all there is to know about egg freezing, with stories and experiences from real Peanut moms who have done it, along with advice from embryologist and fertility expert, Navya Muralidhar.

In this article: 📝

  • What is egg freezing?
  • What’s the purpose of egg freezing?
  • How does egg freezing work?
  • How do you prepare your body to freeze eggs?
  • 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 in liquid nitrogen to preserve them, with the intention of them developing into babies later on.

Once they’ve been harvested, 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 (or thawed), 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).

How many babies have been born from frozen eggs?

Since egg freezing was first done in 1986, there have been thousands of babies born from frozen eggs.

According to USC Fertility, around 5,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs, but, honestly, that number seems a bit low to us.

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:

  • Cancer treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy can impact your fertility.
  • Medical conditions may make it more difficult to conceive, like 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.
  • 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.
  • Timing. 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.

Can you get pregnant if you freeze your eggs?

Yes, you can get pregnant if you freeze your eggs, whether you choose to use your frozen eggs or you conceive without medical assistance.

Harvesting your eggs and freezing them won’t negatively impact your fertility.

How does egg freezing work?

Here’s a quick summary of the egg freezing process:

1. 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.

2. Treatment to stimulate your ovaries

The next step is to start hormone fertility treatment to stimulate your ovaries.

Based on existing conditions, age, and medical factors, different treatment protocols are opted to maximize success factors.

The hormones used include gonadotropins such as FSH and LH.

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 naturally, so your doctor can time ovulation artificially using a trigger, and retrieve the eggs 36 hours after the trigger through egg retrieval.

This prevents the eggs from being 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 at an optimum size and ready for the eggs to be removed, you’ll take more medication to make the eggs mature.

3. 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 puncture the follicles and aspirate the eggs.

They can harvest multiple eggs during the same procedure—you might have as many as 8-10 in one cycle.

Some women can have as many as 15 harvested in one session, but this is considered high.

If this is the case, you’ll likely be sent for an additional OHSS screening to ensure that you’re not hyperstimulated.

In some cases, to ensure that you’re not too stimulated, you’ll be given a break between cycles and start another freezing cycle (this is called the Shanghai protocol).

So it’s usually about 8-10 per cycle and based on age, and if more eggs are needed, another freezing cycle is started after a break.

4. 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.

How many eggs do you need to freeze your eggs?

Usually, when your eggs are being collected for freezing, they’ll aim to take about 10-15 of them.

According to IVF London, this is because about 85-90% of the eggs will survive the freezing process, and a further 6% of the frozen eggs are likely to result in a pregnancy.

So it’s better to collect about a dozen eggs to increase the chances of a pregnancy.

Does insurance cover freezing eggs?

Not often, no, but some insurance companies may cover part of the egg freezing cost.

How do you prepare your body to freeze eggs?

If you’ve had your consultation session, your doctor will advise you on what medications to take (usually injections) and recommend any dietary or lifestyle changes to boost your egg quality.

But here are some other ways to prepare your body for egg freezing, as suggested by our egg-freezing Peanut moms:

  • “Just relax, have some rest, have a nice bath. There are stories of eating pineapple (including the core) to help and also McDonald’s fries straight after.” ‒ Lea
  • “Bromelain capsules! Which is the same thing as eating a pineapple core but in pill form.” ‒ Faith
  • “Do acupuncture before and after, it gets the blood flowing. My biggest recommendation is to stay stress-free and try not to worry which is very hard to do. Drink lots of water, don’t overdo yourself.” ‒ Charmaine
  • “Some things I have heard is to have electrolytes and salty/protein snacks after. Also having something to help constipation just in case.” ‒ Kari

Should I take prenatal vitamins for egg freezing?

If you can, yes, it’s recommended to take prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive ‒ whether that’s medically assisted or not.

But it’s important to consult with your doctor before taking supplements, too, to make sure you’re not doing over the recommended dosage of certain fertility-boosting vitamins and minerals, as that can have an adverse effect.

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.

Short-term risks of egg freezing

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 (OHSS).

Mild to moderate symptoms of OHSS 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 OHSS can be life-threatening.

Does freezing eggs stop periods?

No, egg freezing ‒ and the process leading up to the actual harvesting or freezing ‒ doesn’t stop your periods.

How painful is freezing your eggs?

There can be some discomfort after your egg retrieval ‒ after all, it’s a procedure that requires anesthesia.

So you might feel a bit tender or have some cramping after your eggs get collected.

Long-term risks of egg freezing

The major long-term risk of egg freezing is that it may not result in the baby you’re hoping for.

Because the process is relatively new (it was first done in 1986), 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%.

Can egg freezing damage ovaries?

No, egg freezing shouldn’t damage your ovaries and shouldn’t negatively impact your fertility.

Does egg freezing cause early menopause?

No, there’s nothing to suggest that egg freezing can cause early menopause.

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.

Is 37 too late to freeze eggs?

No, 37 isn’t too late to freeze your eggs.

However, it may not be recommended after the age of 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?

If you’re still undecided about whether egg freezing is right for you, here are some stories from our Peanut community sharing their experiences to help you decide:

  • “In our case, we had fresh and frozen cycles and only the frozen ones worked. But it is a success story of frozen embryos. Plus, it’s much easier on the body, in my opinion, so you feel more rested going into a pregnancy.” ‒ Selina
  • “I had a frozen transfer and it worked the first time for me. I had 23 eggs retrieved so was at risk of OHSS, hence why they had to freeze. But I’m glad I did as it gave me more recovery time.” ‒ Becky
  • “My little girl is an IVF miracle and I’d recommend freezing eggs to all young women!” ‒ Nicola
  • “We have recently conceived twins via frozen egg transfer. IVF, for us, has been a miracle.” ‒ Anna
  • “My sister did it. Her eggs are frozen because she had cysts and lost most of her ovaries at a young age. It is very expensive to keep them frozen.” ‒ Charlene
  • “I work at an IVF clinic, and decided to freeze my eggs just to give me that extra peace of mind for the future. I have never met anyone who has frozen their eggs and regretted it. I would say do it! That way you will have that option if it’s ever needed.” ‒ Jazzy
  • “I felt overwhelmed at the beginning. My advice would be to take one day at a time and try not to get too far ahead in your thinking and as you could have a “deer in headlights” where you feel it’s all too much. I found writing everything down helped too both for a record of what you were taking and when and also for my emotions. I did suffer with OHSS and had all our embryos frozen for later FET.” ‒ Andrea
  • “Coming from a traditional Catholic family I had some hesitation. But we knew we wanted to try for biological children and this was the clearest way to make that happen. I decided I knew this was what I wanted, and knew I would regret it if I didn’t try with the tools that were available. OHSS is such a low risk and you can always call and check if you’re worried about symptoms. I didn’t know about the cancer risk and I guess that’s a good thing because that would have probably worried me too! Today, I’m 23 weeks pregnant and am glad I chose what I did, hormones and all.” ‒ Maria

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, and mental well-being.

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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