Ice, Ice, Baby: What is egg freezing and is it right for me?

August 18, 2022Hertility

Key takeaways

  • As people with ovaries, we’re born with all of the eggs we’ll ever have, but our egg quality and quantity decline with age.
  • Egg freezing is what’s known as a ‘fertility preservation method’, which involves removing healthy eggs from our ovaries and freezing them for future use.
  • Many people might benefit from egg freezing, like those with medical conditions that affect their ovarian reserve, or those of us who aren’t quite ready for kids just yet.
  • Chat to one of our fertility advisors for help deciding whether egg freezing could be right for you.

There’s no doubt about it, egg freezing has definitely 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 kids 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 ovarian reserve.

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…

Ovarian reserve 101

As people with ovaries, we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have—known as our ovarian reserve. Our eggs are grown and stored in our ovaries, within little fluid-filled sacs called follicles. Each month an egg is released into the big wide womb and if it meets a sperm that takes its fancy—voila! We might get pregnant.

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.

Okay, so 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, removing the eggs from your ovaries, after which they are frozen and stored in a healthcare facility (don’t worry—not at home next to the fish fingers) 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. 

If you’re wondering how many eggs can you freeze in one cycle… well that really 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.

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of what’s involved in an egg freezing cycle…

The egg freezing process

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. If you’ve done your Hertility test recently, you can bring the results to your IVF clinic to avoid paying for the same blood tests twice. You will also have a pelvic ultrasound scan to assess your anatomical structures and get a clearer picture of your ovarian reserve.

Ovarian stimulation

If your tests and scans come back with a positive outlook for egg freezing, you will then be prescribed fertility medication to stimulate your ovaries. 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.

Egg retrieval

It’s time to collect those eggs. The egg retrieval is a fairly quick procedure during which your doctor will use an ultrasound probe to identify your viable follicles, and insert a needle into the follicles in your ovaries to suck out fluid that hopefully contains the mature eggs from your ovaries. You can choose to undergo this procedure using general anaesthetic or if you would rather, you can be completely sedated.

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 in an intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) cycle, which is a special type of IVF treatment.

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 declining 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.

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

But can you freeze your eggs on the NHS? Unfortunately, the NHS will only fund egg freezing for certain groups with medical reasons, like cancer patients. 

At Hertility, we can get you fast-tracked referrals to egg freezing UK treatments at our partner clinics, no matter what your reason for wanting to freeze your eggs is.

What age should you freeze your eggs?

You can freeze your eggs at any age during your reproductive years (after you start menstruating and before menopause). Generally the younger you are the higher quality your eggs will be and in one egg freezing cycle you may be able to retrieve more eggs. That being said, lots of people freeze their eggs well into their late 30s or even early 40s.

Is egg freezing right for me?

If you’re considering egg freezing but not sure if it’s quite right for you, you may want to consider chatting to one of our trained fertility advisors. With years of experience working in fertility services, our advisors 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.

References

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/

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