What is egg freezing and is it right for me? | Egg freezing process
What is egg freezing and the egg freezing process? A fairly new procedure, allowing you to preserve your fertility, but what is it and is it right for you?
There’s no doubt about it, egg freezing has become a biology buzzword.
And with good reason too. Egg freezing can be a great option for many people, including those of us who want to become parents one day but aren’t quite ready to take the plunge just yet, or those who have a reproductive health condition that could affect their fertility. But what exactly is egg freezing? And how do we know if it could be right for us?
Before we jump into the egg freezing process, let’s quickly recap on why we even need egg freezing in the first place.
What is ovarian reserve?
As people with ovaries, we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have—known as our ovarian reserve. Unlike men, who produce sperm throughout their life, women have a limited supply of eggs. Unfortunately, as we age, both the quality and quantity of our eggs declines (cheers biological clock).
We are all born with around 1-2 million eggs but by the time we hit puberty, we have around 300,000 left and it slowly declines as we get older. This decline increases more sharply post the mid 30s.
Unfortunately, as we age, both the quality and quantity of our eggs declines (cheers biological clock). This means that as we get older, we stop ovulating as consistently and the eggs we do release aren’t quite the spring chickens they once were.
So, as we age and our ovarian reserve declines, getting pregnant naturally also becomes harder.
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is what’s known as a ‘fertility preservation method’ that quite literally involves putting your eggs on ice for later use.
Egg freezing involves using fertility medication which stimulates your ovaries to produce multiple mature eggs. Those eggs are then removed from your ovaries and frozen and stored in a laboratory, until you’re ready to use them.
Eggs are frozen in what’s known as an ‘egg freezing cycle’. You may want to do multiple rounds to increase your chances of retrieving a larger batch of healthy eggs.
How many eggs can you freeze in one cycle?
The number of eggs you can freeze in one cycle depends on how many eggs you’ve got left, how well you respond to the fertility medication and how successful the retrieval is. Some retrievals will unfortunately yield no eggs that are suitable for freezing, whilst in others, you may be able to retrieve dozens of eggs.The whole process is what’s called an ‘egg freezing cycle’. We will explain each stage in detail below. It’s important to note that egg freezing is not a fail-proof method and its success relies on healthy eggs.
So, let’s get into what is involved in an egg freezing cycle…
The egg freezing process
Step one: Blood tests and scans
First things first, you’ll undergo a number of different blood tests to check your reproductive hormone levels as well as testing for infections like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Testing your Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) levels can give you a good initial indication of your ovarian reserve and how viable egg freezing is for you.
This will examine the inside of your abdomen, uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, vagina and give you your Antral Follicle Count (AFC), i.e. an estimate of your egg count.
You will also have a pelvic ultrasound scan to assess your ovarian reserve better by having a look at the number of follicles in your ovaries, known as the antral follicle count (AFC) i.e. an estimate of your egg count. This will examine the inside of your abdomen, uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, vagina.
This step is also essential for deciding if this process is right for you and whether you have enough eggs to successfully do an egg freezing cycle.
Tip: If you’ve done your Hertility fertility test recently, you can bring the results to your IVF clinic to avoid paying for the same blood tests twice.
Step two: Ovarian stimulation
Depending on the results of the initial investigation, your doctor will work out the best protocol, dosage of medication and how many cycles you might need… Ovaries usually mature and ovulate only one egg during each menstrual cycle, however fertility medication encourages them to mature more eggs in order for multiple eggs to be retrieved.
During this simulation period, which is usually around two weeks, you’ll need to attend pelvic ultrasound scans and take blood tests regularly to monitor the growth of the follicles which house your eggs. When your doctor thinks your eggs are ready, you’ll be given a ‘trigger injection’ which matures your eggs fully, readying them for collection. The timing of this injection is important and the egg retrieval usually happens 36 hours afterwards.
Step three: Egg retrieval
It’s time to collect those eggs. You’ll undergo a minor egg retrieval surgery performed under general anaesthesia or sedation. A long, thin ultrasound-guided needle is inserted via your vagina to retrieve your eggs. You can go home after an hour or two of the procedure. Some people do return to work the next day, while others also rest the day following the retrieval. You might feel slight pain or discomfort and notice some spotting after the procedure. Your doctor will guide you on aftercare.
Step four: Freezing, storing and thawing
Once your eggs have been collected, they’re passed onto an embryologist who checks they’re all good to go. They will then freeze (cryopreserve) your eggs in a method called vitrification. Your frozen eggs will be stored in your fertility clinic to be later thawed whenever you’re ready to use them.
What happens when I am ready to use my eggs?
When you’re ready, your frozen eggs will be thawed, fertilised with sperm, either from your partner or a donor if needed, and allowed to develop into embryos in the lab before being transferred into your uterus via a thin, flexible catheter.
Sometimes people may opt to undergo add on testing such as genetic testing of the embryos before they are transferred to select the best quality embryo. This is not a required step, may not be recommended for everyone and may have an additional cost.
Who is egg freezing for?
Technically, anyone with ovaries.
There are many, many reasons why we might decide to freeze our eggs. Maybe we’re worried about our fertility, but we just aren’t ready for kids right now. Maybe the timing isn’t quite right, we’re focusing on our careers or we’ve just not met a partner that we want to start a family with yet.
There are also lots of medical reasons, like cancer patients undergoing treatments that are known to damage egg cells like radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Or for those that have been diagnosed with a condition, like PCOS or endometriosis, which affects their ovaries and fertility.
Also, for anyone undergoing gender affirming treatment, egg freezing can be a great option too.
All of these reasons, and more, are completely valid.
What age should you freeze your eggs?
There isn’t a specific age that applies to everyone for egg freezing. It is recommended to consider it in your 20s to early 30s when egg quality is typically higher. Generally the younger you are the higher quality your eggs will be and in one freezing cycle you may be able to retrieve more eggs.
Additionally, as fertility tends to fall more rapidly after age 35, if you are considering it, the best time to freeze your eggs would be before you turn 35. That being said, lots of people freeze their eggs well into their late 30s or even early 40s, although the chances of a live birth are smaller. However, individual circumstances and fertility goals should always be discussed with a healthcare professional.
How effective is egg freezing?
The effectiveness of egg freezing can vary depending on factors such as age, medical history and the number of eggs frozen. Egg freezing also does not guarantee a successful pregnancy.
Recent research from Hertility Doctors showed that out of a total of 373 women who froze their eggs, only 36 returned to use them, which resulted in 12 live births. 82% of those babies were born to those who froze their eggs between the ages of 36 and 39 years of age. Unfortunately, no one who froze their eggs after the age of 40 had a successful pregnancy during the study period.
So what does this mean? Whilst egg freezing has recently become known as a fail-safe way of preserving fertility, this research shows that this is not always the case, and highlights the importance of evidence-based decision-making. It shows that although egg freezing is a viable option for having children later in life, it does not guarantee a successful birth. Women should be encouraged to freeze their eggs earlier than has been previously thought and be made aware of the risks and low likelihood of success when doing it in their late 30s and 40s.
If you want help understanding your specific chances of success, you can book a pre-treatment and referral package with us at Hertility, which includes a Hormone blood test and free consultation with our partner fertility clinic.
What is social egg freezing?
Social egg freezing is when a person chooses to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons. It allows individuals to preserve their fertility options for the future, whether that is due to personal or career-related choices.
This can also include if someone is worried about their natural fertility decline with age but isn’t quite ready to have children yet. Or if they aren’t sure if they want children at all, but would like to keep their options open for the future.
What is medical egg freezing?
Medical egg freezing is when a person freezes their eggs for medical reasons. This can be done before undergoing a medical procedure such as chemotherapy or radiation that may affect fertility. It allows individuals to preserve their ability to have biological children in the future.
How much does it cost to freeze eggs?
According to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) the average UK cost of the entire egg freezing and thawing process can cost anywhere between £7,000 to £8,000.
The cost of social egg freezing can vary depending on factors like location and clinic fees. It is best to consult with a fertility clinic to get an accurate estimate of how much it will cost. More information on UK egg freezing costs can be found here.
At Hertility, we can get you fast-tracked referrals to egg freezing UK treatments at our partner clinics.
Can I get egg freezing on the NHS?
Social egg freezing is not funded by the NHS. Egg freezing is available on the NHS for certain medical conditions that can put our fertility at risk. Your GP or specialist will be able to advise about your eligibility for treatment.
Are there any risks or complications with egg freezing?
There are potential risks associated with egg freezing, such as:
Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome:
Egg freezing is a relatively safe procedure, the main risk, although it is rare, is over-stimulating the ovaries. This condition is known as Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome. It can cause severe bloating, stomach pains and nausea.
Hormone Injection Side Effects:
The first stage of egg freezing involves injecting yourself with hormones, which can make you feel emotional and on edge.
As with any medical procedure that involves anaesthetics, there is always a risk of complications with general anaesthetics during the egg retrieval process. They are rare but possible.
Is egg freezing right for me?
Ultimately, the decision of whether egg freezing is right for you depends on a lot of different factors. Some will be simpler—like, ‘Can I afford to?’ Others may be more complex—like, ‘Am I in the right place emotionally right now?’. It’s personal—no two of us will be the same. It’s okay not to have all the answers.
Making this decision is a process, but you’re not alone—ever. Our team at Hertility is here to support you and give you all of the information you need to make the right decision, at the right time.
If you’re considering egg freezing but not sure if it’s quite right for you or you have any questions, you may want to consider chatting to one of our trained fertility advisors. With years of experience working in fertility services, Daniella, Emily or Ellie can help get all of the information you need to make the right decision for you, including how to navigate referrals, initial testing and the financial costs of egg freezing.
Ready to get started? Find out where your fertility and hormones are at right now and whether egg freezing could be viable for you with one of our at-home blood tests.
Gale, J., Clancy, A.A. and Claman, P., 2020. Elective egg freezing for age-related fertility decline. CMAJ, 192(6), pp.E142-E142. https://www.cmaj.ca/content/192/6/E142.long
Varlas, V.N., Bors, R.G., Albu, D., Penes, O.N., Nasui, B.A., Mehedintu, C. and Pop, A.L., 2021. Social freezing: Pressing pause on fertility. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(15), p.8088. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8345795/
Petropanagos, A., Cattapan, A., Baylis, F. and Leader, A., 2015. Social egg freezing: risk, benefits and other considerations. Cmaj, 187(9), pp.666-669. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4467930/