Everything you wanted to know about egg freezing

Health

Want the career now and the family later? Egg freezing could be the way to delay having babies. You freeze your eggs while they’re at their peak, to be used later. But are there downsides, does it work and what else do you need to know? We investigate…

What is egg freezing?

Dr Amin Gorgy is a fertility consultant at The Fertility & Gynaecology Academy. “As women become older, their chances of getting pregnant begin to decrease. This decline starts after the mid-30s and becomes even more pronounced over the age of 40. Freezing your eggs at a stage in your life when the ovaries are capable of producing high quality eggs is therefore a sensible option for fertility treatment in future years. Egg freezing is considered a back-up insurance policy.”

What does the process entail?

“Egg freezing is the process of collecting eggs from a woman’s ovaries and freezing them for future use, in essence capturing the woman’s fertility at that particular point in time, if she isn’t yet ready to have children. Egg freezing involves the same principles as IVF, that means your ovaries are stimulated with injections that will make them produce several eggs in one go. When these are mature, they are collected via a short operative procedure that involves using a needle into the vagina and then the ovaries, to collect all of the eggs. Once frozen, they can later be thawed, fertilized and used to create embryos that can then be used for implantation and hopefully give rise to a baby,” says Dr Larisa Corda, a leading obstetrician and gynaecologist and fertility expert.

When is it best done?

“A woman’s age at the time of egg freezing is crucial to the chance of successful pregnancy using the eggs and so the earlier eggs can be frozen, the better. The quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs start to decline with age, and for those over 35, the eggs will already be deteriorating at the time of freezing. Aside from increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s Syndrome, this means less chance of a successful IVF cycle once the eggs have been thawed.

It is recommended that egg freezing is carried out before the age of 35. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) states that women looking to freeze their eggs to preserve their fertility potential should do so before the age of 35 for a better chance of having children later on in life,” Dr Gorgy says.

“Not surprisingly, the highest live birth rates from previously frozen eggs are shown to come from women who undergo the procedure before they are 30. However, the average age at which women freeze their eggs is around 37. Many women are closer to 40 by the time they consider doing this,” Dr Corda says.

How long eggs can be frozen for?

“The UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment, the HFEA, has strict guidelines in its code of practice regarding how long eggs should be frozen for. They impose a 10 year limit. This can be extended in special circumstances for a maximum of 55 years,” Dr Gorgy says.

How many eggs should you freeze to give yourself a good chance of becoming pregnant later on?

“The number of eggs frozen varies between patients. It depends on a number of factors, including the age of the patient. Most patients will have around 15 eggs collected for freezing. For older patients, or women with low ovarian reserves, this number may be less. We only freeze mature eggs and unfortunately not all the retrieved eggs will be mature. According to a mathematical model you need to freeze 20 eggs to stand a good chance of having a baby. Two to three egg freezing cycles would be recommended to achieve that number,” Dr Gorgy says.

What are the positives?

“Feeling that you’ve done what you could to help preserve your fertility can suddenly take a lot of pressure off. Believe it or not, I’ve often had patients tell me that Mr Right arrives on the scene soon after when they least expected it! You can focus your attention on whether this person is right for you, rather than how soon you need to start having a family,” Dr Corda says.

What are the negatives?

“There are no guarantees of being able to have a baby with egg freezing. We don’t know anything about the quality of the eggs until they are fertilised and allowed to develop into an embryo. It can also be a very costly procedure. Some women need several cycles of treatment in order to be able to gain enough eggs to freeze. In addition, you need to be able to take time off to attend regular blood tests and scans. Once you freeze the eggs, you will have to pay a regular maintenance cost to keep them frozen. Later, you have to pay to have fertilised to create an embryo that can be transferred into your womb. Also, having a baby later in life can mean pregnancy related complications are more common,” Dr Corda says.

How much does it cost?

“As with any procedure, it varies between clinics. The HFEA states that the average cost to have the eggs collected and frozen is £3,350. The fertility drugs are injected are an additional £500-1,500. You will also need to factor in storage which varies from £125-£350 a year. To thaw and implant the eggs into the womb you can expect an average of £2,500,” Dr Gorgy says.

So there you go. Knowledge is power, after all.

By Charlotte

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