Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a medical procedure in which a woman’s eggs (oocytes) are extracted, frozen, and stored for later use. This process allows a woman to preserve her fertility by saving her eggs while they are still healthy and viable. The frozen eggs can be thawed and used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) at a later time when the woman is ready to conceive.
Egg freezing is a valuable option for women who want to preserve their reproductive options and have more control over their fertility timeline. However, it’s essential to consult with a fertility specialist to understand the process, success rates, and associated costs before making this choice.
Egg Freezing Process
Ovarian Stimulation: Before egg retrieval, a woman typically undergoes ovarian stimulation with hormone medications. These medications stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple mature eggs, instead of the single egg that is typically released during a natural menstrual cycle. This allows for the collection of several eggs in one cycle.
Egg Retrieval: Once the eggs have matured, they are collected using a minor surgical procedure known as transvaginal ultrasound-guided egg retrieval. This procedure is relatively quick and minimally invasive. A thin needle is inserted through the vaginal wall to aspirate the eggs from the ovaries.
Egg Freezing: After retrieval, the eggs are carefully frozen using a process called vitrification. This flash-freezing method minimizes the formation of ice crystals, which can damage the eggs. The frozen eggs are then stored in liquid nitrogen at a specialized cryopreservation facility.
Storage: The eggs can be stored for an extended period, typically many years, until the woman decides to use them to attempt pregnancy.
Reasons for Egg Freezing
Fertility Preservation: Egg freezing is often chosen by women who want to preserve their fertility for various reasons, such as delaying childbearing for career or personal reasons, undergoing medical treatments (like chemotherapy) that could harm fertility, or family planning when no suitable partner is available.
Medical Reasons: Some women with medical conditions that may affect their future fertility, such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or a family history of premature ovarian insufficiency, may opt for egg freezing.
Age-Related Fertility Concerns: As women age, their fertility declines, and the quality of their eggs decreases. Freezing eggs at a younger age can help mitigate age-related fertility issues.
What’s the ideal age to freeze my eggs? When is it too late?
The ideal age to preserve eggs is 32-36, although any woman between the ages of 30 and 40 should consider egg freezing if they want to postpone having children. The quantity of eggs a woman need is determined by her age, but age is only one predictor, and not every 35 or 40 year old is the same. As a result, there is no exact upper age; however, women under the age of 40 will have higher success, and studies have indicated that egg freezing is cost effective till the age of 38.
Will this process remove all of my eggs?
A woman’s ovaries contain one to two million immature oocytes (eggs) at birth. Every month, a woman’s eggs grow as a cohort, one follicle (immature egg) becomes dominant and ovulates, and the remaining (non-dominant) follicles are lost due to atresia. As a result, a woman will lose the bulk of her eggs due to atresia rather than ovulation. Non-dominant follicles are “rescued” and not lost during atresia by using IVF drugs, and are collected for cryopreservation by egg retrieval. This procedure “rescues” follicles and eggs that might otherwise be lost.
How long will I be on medicine before the retrieval?
In order to stimulate the ovaries, injectable medicines must be used for 10 to 12 days on average. While on medication, ultrasonography monitoring will be required 4 to 5 times per week. After the stimulated follicles have matured into mature eggs, which normally takes two weeks, you will have an egg retrieval procedure.
What is the success rate?
It’s important to note that the success of egg freezing may vary depending on several factors, including the woman’s age at the time of egg retrieval and the quality of the eggs. Not all frozen eggs will result in successful pregnancies. When a woman decides to use her frozen eggs, they are thawed and fertilized through IVF, and the resulting embryos are then transferred to the uterus.
The success rate is determined by the woman’s age and the kind of egg freezing used. The use of vitrification and younger women provide the best success rates. Recent research shows the necessity for women under the age of 36 to freeze roughly 12 eggs in order to have up to a 50% chance of having a child later, compared to 7% to 10% for an older group of women with fewer eggs. The success rate of eggs decreases with age.
It not only provides insurance, but it also gives some women a chance to conceive with their own eggs if they don’t wait too long.
Benefits of egg freezing
Egg freezing, or oocyte cryopreservation, offers several potential benefits for women who choose to undergo this procedure:
Fertility Preservation: One of the primary benefits of egg freezing is the preservation of a woman’s fertility. This allows women to delay childbearing until they are ready, without worrying about age-related declines in fertility. It can be especially valuable for women who want to focus on their education, career, or personal goals before starting a family.
Medical Treatments: Some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, can harm a woman’s fertility. Egg freezing can provide a way to preserve the possibility of having biological children before undergoing these treatments.
Age-Related Fertility: As women age, their fertility decreases, and the quality of their eggs declines. Freezing eggs at a younger age can help overcome the challenges of age-related fertility decline and increase the chances of having a healthy pregnancy when the time is right.
Genetic and Health Factors: Women with certain genetic or health factors that may affect their future fertility, such as a family history of early menopause, may choose egg freezing to mitigate potential fertility issues.
Family Planning: Egg freezing provides greater flexibility in family planning. Women can have more control over when they want to start a family, which can be particularly important for those who have not yet found a suitable partner or are in uncertain relationships.
Reduced Pressure: For women who face social or cultural pressures to have children within a certain time frame, egg freezing can alleviate some of that pressure and provide more time to make informed decisions about family building.
Psychological Benefits: Egg freezing can offer peace of mind, reduce anxiety related to fertility, and provide emotional relief for women who are concerned about their reproductive future.
Options for Single Women: Single women who desire biological children but haven’t found a partner can use egg freezing to preserve their fertility while continuing their search for a suitable partner.