Did you know the first baby to be conceived from a frozen egg was in 1986?
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a new age reproductive technology. It has become increasingly popular over the years as more and more women are choosing to conceive at a later age, allowing them more time to focus on their careers.
Age plays a crucial role in a woman’s ability to conceive. When women age, their egg quality, and quantity both reduce drastically, especially after the age of 35. You may have heard of the term “biological clock,” which refers to an organism’s innate timing device. This means it controls the physiological activities of an organism, which changes over time.
A woman’s fertility peaks in her early to mid-20s and then starts to decline as she enters her 30s.
However, even though we have successful fertility treatments available today, they might not always be the best choice for you. Always ensure you are well informed and consult your doctor before considering any type of procedure.
Here are 8 things to keep in mind before freezing your eggs.
- The younger, the better: Research suggests egg freezing works better for women in their 20s and early 30s. It is not recommended for women over 38. Although you have decided to conceive later, while you are younger, your eggs are of higher quality and have higher fertility potential; so freezing your eggs early can increase your pregnancy chances. Hormone tests can provide helpful information about your ovarian reserve (number of eggs).
- It is an invasive procedure: There are a lot of steps that make up the process, which can take up to 6 weeks. First, a blood sample is taken to be tested for your ovarian reserve and to screen for any diseases or infections. An ultrasound may also be used to see your overall reproductive function.
Stimulating hormones are administered to stimulate your ovaries to produce more follicles to protect your eggs. The medication will also delay ovulation before the egg retrieval process. After an ultrasound has determined there is follicle growth, and you are ready for the egg retrieval procedure; a human chorionic gonadotropin injection is required to help the eggs to mature.
The egg retrieval process happens in the doctor’s office with a transvaginal ultrasound to help the doctor locate the mature follicles. A long, thin needle is inserted through the vagina, and gentle suction is used to remove the eggs one at a time.
After egg retrieval, a process called vitrification takes place to freeze the eggs in liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen dramatically increases the egg survival rate compared to “slow freezing,” which has a long cooling process. A recent study found a 91% survival rate using vitrification by liquid nitrogen compared to 61% using the slow freezing method. Most clinics have now stopped using the slow freezing method.
It is advised to take it easy at work for a week as you may experience mild cramping and pain post the procedure. Also, it is advisable to use protection during sexual intercourse as some eggs can still be present.
Some symptoms of the medication can include weight gain and bloating, which can indicate ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
- Egg freezing is costly: Several fertility treatments can be expensive, and it is crucial to ensure you are aware of all costs before making a decision. The cost for egg freezing in India can vary between ₹1,00,000 – ₹1,50,000, plus the recurring annual costs to keep them frozen. Make sure you have all the information from your clinic and insurance company.
- Pregnancy is not guaranteed: Although egg freezing is offering a technology to preserve your eggs, there is still little data to determine its success. Several factors play crucial roles in establishing a successful pregnancy using a frozen egg such as the thawing process, the survival rate, and the number of viable eggs.
- Embryos and eggs are different: During embryo freezing, the eggs are fertilized using IVF and develop into embryos over the next few days before being flash frozen. There is not much difference in the success rates of egg freezing and embryo freezing. One of the biggest challenges when deciding between freezing eggs or embryos is you need to determine which sperm will be used for fertilization. This can become difficult if you are unmarried or have not found a suitable partner. Egg freezing is a simpler choice for single women.
- It may require more than one cycle: There is no guarantee that you will manage to harvest enough viable eggs for freezing in one go. This can be because of low AMH and a low egg reserve, which is why freezing at a young age is recommended. This can increase the costs as well as the emotional burden of undergoing multiple procedures.
- Side effects can take a physical and emotional toll: You may experience mild cramping and pain after the egg retrieval procedure and also experience mood swings because of all the hormones. This is normal and will settle in time. Although more research is required to determine long term effects, there are chances of experiencing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. This occurs in response to the excess hormones administered to stimulate follicle development and causes the ovaries to swell and become painful.
- Egg & embryo thawing has high success rates but doesn’t guarantee pregnancy: Egg thawing success rates are around 80% and 99% for embryos. Although these success rates are favorable, it doesn’t guarantee these eggs or embryos will result in a pregnancy. After fertilization, implantation needs to occur to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.
When to consider egg freezing?
Egg freezing is a fertility treatment chosen by many women who would like to have children at a later age. Preserving their eggs, especially at a younger age, can increase their chances of getting pregnant in the future.
There are other reasons why you may want to freeze your eggs. These can include suffering from infertility and undergoing IVF treatment or prior to undergoing treatment like chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer, which can affect your ability to get pregnant.
What are the risks involved?
Although any procedure or treatment comes with risks or complications, egg freezing overall has minimal risks and is a great preventative measure to consider while your biological clock is ticking.
You may experience swollen ovaries, mild cramping and pain, and mood swings, light bleeding, or infection post the egg retrieval process.
The chances of getting pregnant after implantation are approximately 30-60% depending on your age at the time of egg freezing.
Egg freezing has given women an alternative to consider when planning for pregnancy. It is also a treatment that can be used for women who are struggling to get pregnant or for women suffering from chronic illness and undergoing treatment.
Although the results are not 100%, egg freezing is a crucial backup plan for women to have their own biological child when current circumstances can not allow for them to plan a pregnancy; maybe due to medical or social reasons.
IVF success highly depends on a woman’s age and egg quality, therefore, if IVF is required at a later date, egg freezing at a younger age can increase your chances of IVF success drastically. If for some reason you choose not to freeze your eggs but try for a baby at a later age, egg donation may be your only option if you are struggling to conceive.
It is essential to do your research and consult your doctor to understand everything you need to know before making a decision.