With advances in reproductive technologies women now have more options than ever before when it comes to planning a family. Freezing eggs is a popular choice for women wanting to preserve their fertility.
There are many reasons why women may choose to freeze her eggs. Often it is to delay childbearing until other goals have been achieved, whether these are personal, educational or career orientated. In other cases it may be due to health issues, such as a cancer diagnosis.
For women considering freezing eggs one of the biggest questions surrounds timing. Women in their prime reproductive years may be eager to start a family and confident in their life situation. However, many women are not in this position and their path to pregnancy may be more complicated.
The right time for freezing eggs
Ideally women should considered freezing eggs in their prime reproductive years. Women aged in their 20’s and early 30’s are at their reproductive prime, with the best quality and quantity of eggs.
Women are born with a specific number of eggs. Over time these reserves diminish in volume and cellular integrity. As women reach their late 30’s and 40’s their chances of conceiving decline and there are greater risks associated with pregnancies.
It is possible to assess ovarian reserves using tests such as Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) testing and antral follicle counts. This can help to gain an insight into the number of eggs still remaining and potential reproductive years. This may assist some women in making the decision about whether to freeze eggs.
However, it’s important to note that these tests do not reveal information about the quality of the eggs.
Other considerations when freezing eggs
Although age is the primary consideration when determining the time for freezing eggs, there are also other factors. For some women the knowledge that they have preserved eggs can provide peace of mind.
Demanding careers, educational pursuits or other circumstances may delay family building plans. Women facing cancer therapy or some other serious illness may also be a driving factor in choosing to freeze eggs.
In any case, by freezing eggs many women are able to still strive to have a family at a later time when the circumstances are more supportive.
The egg freezing process
To retrieve eggs for freezing the patient undergoes a similar procedure to in-vitro fertilisation. Once the eggs are retrieved they are frozen. This can be done using with a flash-freezing process known as vitrification or a slow-freeze method. The method will depend on the clinic offering the procedure.
The egg freezing cycle takes approximately four to six weeks to complete, similar to the initial IVF stages.
There is two to four weeks of self-administered hormone injections and birth control pills to temporarily turn off natural hormones, followed by approximately fourteen days of hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries and mature multiple eggs.
These timeframes can vary and may be much shorter, especially if there is urgency such a cancer therapy.
The eggs are removed using a specialised needle and preformed under intravenous sedation. They are then frozen until the patient is ready to attempt pregnancy. When ready to try and build a family, the eggs are thawed and fertilised. The embryo(s) is then transferred back into the uterus.
How much does it cost?
The cost of medication and treatment for one cycle is roughly £/€ 6,000-10,000 and storing eggs will cost around £/€ 600 per year. At first glance this seems high, but freezing your eggs may save thousands of Euros / Pounds in fertility treatments (consultations, ovulation drugs & preparation processes) when you are actually looking to the them fertilised.Finally, freezing your eggs offers immediate peace of mind and may save you years of anxiety.
How many eggs should be frozen?
The general recommendation is that ten eggs are stored for each pregnancy attempt. Usually between ten and twenty eggs are collected during the IVF retrieval process. The exact length of time eggs can remain frozen and retain viability is unknown. However, it is thought that that frozen egg quality can be maintained for many years, similar to frozen embryos.
Where to find more information
Anyone considering freezing eggs can find more information from their local fertility clinic.
Dr. Kooner is Deputy Director of The Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago and has been a Specialist in Fertility Treatment since 1999.
As well as the areas that the clinic specialises in general, he is particularly interested in managing oocyte donation, female same-sex couples, single women having sperm donation and those considering egg freezing.
Dr. Kooner regularly speaks at fertility meetings. He has published in national journals and constantly contributes to the fertility research and publications from Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago.