What is involved in Egg Freezing?
More and more women are exploring egg freezing if they have reached their thirties or forties but don’t feel ready for children yet or have not yet met the right partner.
There are many factors to consider if you are thinking of freezing your eggs. It is important is to take into account your age (egg freezing is certainly more successful if done when a woman is under 37) and your ovarian reserve ie egg reserves. Ideally, you will want to freeze as many eggs as possible in a given cycle and this is more likely if you are under age 37 and you have a good egg reserve. Older women or women with a reduced ovarian reserve may need more than one egg freeze cycle in order to be able to freeze a sufficient number of eggs. It is also so important to realise that freezing your eggs does not assure you will have a baby. Legally, at present, you can only freeze your eggs for a maximum of 10 years, except in exceptional circumstances. There are many hurdles to overcome between freezing your eggs and giving birth.
The first step is to have a consultation with us. If you are still at the stage of collecting information or you are undecided, then it is best to see one of our fertility nurse/midwives. If you are ready to proceed with freezing your eggs, then you should see one of our doctors and they can plan your treatment.
As part of the consultation we will need to assess your egg reserves, which usually involves a blood test to check your anti-mullerian hormone level and also an antral-follicle count scan.
Many women are unaware that egg freezing involves going through a similar process to IVF to collect their eggs. To collect the eggs your ovaries need to be stimulated. You produce lots of eggs in any one month during a natural cycle but only one egg is usually released. For egg freezing the aim is to produce a larger number of eggs. The eggs are then collected vaginally using ultrasound guidance. You will not be aware of the process as you will receive a light sedation.
Once collected, the eggs are assessed by the embryologist for suitability and any mature eggs are then frozen by “vitrification”, which is a fast freezing method used in recent years which we know to be more successful than the previous slower freezing methods.
Once you are ready to use your eggs, they are thawed very slowly and inseminated with sperm. Following fertilisation, the eggs develop into embryos and one is inserted into your uterus. Any remaining embryos can then be frozen and used at a later date.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF EGG FREEZING
1. Egg freezing is a way to preserve your fertility which provides some reassurance if you find yourself approaching your late 30’s.
2. Younger eggs are typically more chromosomally normal so the younger you are the higher the chance of having a baby from freezing your eggs.
3. If you find yourself in a position in your late 30’s or 40’s to get pregnant, you will be using your own genetic material.
4. There are no indications of any health issues with successful births through this technique
1. Egg freezing doesn’t guarantee a baby. Eggs do not always survive the thawing process and many eggs are chromosomally abnormal.
2. As with any surgical procedure there is always a risk, however small. The usual risks associated with IVF, although rare, will also apply to egg freezing, such as hyper-stimulation of the ovaries.
3. In delaying motherhood there can be social and other implications for older mothers.
4. So far there have not been enough live births in the UK to be able to assess success satisfactorily but early indications suggest a 30 – 50% success rate. Success is significantly influenced by the age, quality and quantity of the eggs collected and how they cope with the thawing process. For example, over the age of 38, ideally you will want to freeze 20-30 eggs in order to achieve a baby and this is rarely possible in just one egg freeze cycle, therefore there are cost implications too.
5. Currently the HFEA will allow frozen eggs to be stored for ten years only, after which a medical certificate has to be granted to allow continued storage, but this only applies if you are deemed to be prematurely infertile.