5 things to know about freezing your eggs

October 19, 2017 | by Diana Calero, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Many women today are waiting longer to have babies. Some want to focus on their careers or travel first. Others postpone motherhood because they haven’t found the right partner yet. But when it comes childbearing, time is of the essence.

A woman is born with all of the eggs she’ll ever have, and she loses one with each period. Over time, the quality of the remaining eggs declines. Infertility issues also increase with age, making pregnancy more difficult after age 35.

Some women who want kids — but not just yet — are freezing their eggs for future use.

Oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, can help preserve reproductive potential in women. While women have been freezing their embryos since the 1950s, the practice of freezing unfertilized eggs didn’t begin until 30 years later. Young women with cancer were given a chance to freeze their eggs before losing their fertility to treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Now egg freezing is going mainstream. In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) declared that egg freezing was no longer considered an “experimental” procedure. Also, some companies, like Google, Facebook and Apple, announced they would help pay for employees’ elective egg freezing procedures.

What do you need to know about putting your eggs on ice?

  1. The process. Egg freezing and in vitro fertilization (IVF), a form of assisted reproductive technology, follow the same steps in the beginning. First, you give yourself daily hormone shots to boost your egg production for a few weeks. Then, your eggs are removed using a thin ultrasound-guided needle, a procedure that takes about 10-20 minutes under sedation. On average, 10-20 eggs are removed and then evaluated for their health. The healthy eggs are frozen unfertilized and stored for a later date.
  2. The success rate. When you decide you want to have a child, your eggs are thawed, fertilized and implanted into your uterus using IVF. That’s when you hope the process is a success and the pregnancy is carried to term. The success rate for women undergoing IVF appears to be just as high when using frozen eggs as fresh ones, but undergoing IVF using frozen embryos (eggs that were fertilized with sperm before being frozen) has a greater success rate.
  3. The risks. While the risks of egg freezing itself are rare, there are risks involved with IVF. The process involves hormone injections that can have side effects, an invasive surgical procedure to harvest the eggs, and anesthesia.
  4. The cost. Like IVF, egg freezing takes a lot of time, effort and money. Egg freezing service providers charge upwards of $10,000 or more for one freeze cycle. This doesn’t include the costs of storage, and then the thawing, fertilizing and implanting years later. It’s a big financial investment that may not pay off.
  5. The ticking clock. Once you freeze your eggs, you may have some peace of mind, but the clock is still ticking. The chances that IVF will result in a successful pregnancy and you can successfully carry a baby to term decreases as you get older. Also, the younger a woman gets pregnant, the healthier the pregnancy. Women who become pregnant after age 35 have a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications.

If you're thinking about freezing your eggs, don't wait. The younger you are when you freeze your eggs, the healthier the eggs, and the better your odds of getting pregnant later. The ASRM says elective egg freezing is most successful for women younger than 38.

While freezing your eggs can bring you peace of mind, there also comes the risk of false hope. A successful pregnancy is not guaranteed, so factor this into your decision making. Some experts still endorse egg freezing only for women who are delaying pregnancy for medical indications, and warn against using egg freezing to electively delay motherhood, citing lack of data.

If you are considering freezing your eggs, be sure to talk to your doctor about whether it is right for you based on your personal and reproductive history.

Learn more about pregnancy and baby services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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