Egg freezing

How egg freezing works

Egg freezing has become more popular in recent years as women have kids later in life than ever before. It’s a method of fertility preservation that allows you to put off family building. Frozen-thawed eggs are then used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) once you’re ready for pregnancy.

If you’re considering freezing your eggs, it’s helpful to get familiar with the process and costs involved so you can know what to expect.

Why egg freezing is done

Age is one of the most important factors when it comes to female fertility. We lose around 1,000 eggs per menstrual cycle. And starting around the mid-20s, the eggs remaining in the ovaries decline in quality, with more significant decreases at ages 31, 35, and 37. This increases the chance of chromosomal (genetic) abnormalities and pregnancy complications like miscarriage

Egg freezing acts like a time machine for fertility – keeping eggs at the same quality as when they were retrieved. It gives women the option to put off pregnancy and increases the chances that IVF will be successful at an older age. 

Read about the main reasons women freeze their eggs here.

Egg freezing techniques

There are two methods of egg freezing: slow and fast. Slow freezing is an older technique that involves cooling the egg cell over several hours until it reaches the storing temperature of -320º Fahrenheit (-196º Celsius). 

Vitrification is a new technique that rapidly freezes the egg so that the water molecules can’t form ice crystals (this can happen during slow freezing and can damage the egg). 
Studies show much higher success rates using vitrification – so if you’re considering freezing your eggs, ensure your fertility clinic uses this newer technique!

How egg freezing works

Here’s what you can expect from the egg freezing process and timeline:

Step 1: Diagnostics and testing

The first step is to visit a fertility clinic to speak with a reproductive endocrinologist (fertility doctor) about freezing your eggs. At many fertility clinics in the U.S., it can take around 2 months from the time you schedule your appointment to your visit to the clinic.

At your appointment, you’ll go over your medical history and schedule blood tests. One of the most important tests to prepare for egg freezing is AMH, or anti-Mullerian hormone, a measure of how many eggs are remaining in your ovaries. 

Once you’ve visited the lab and received your results, you’ll have another appointment with your doctor to discuss what they mean for your reproductive health.

If you’re undergoing egg freezing, we streamline this process and make it more convenient for you. You’ll answer questions about your health background in our smart digital questionnaire and visit a lab near you for testing. 

When you have your results, you’ll upload them to your LEVY Health profile for a reproductive endocrinologist to review. Then you’ll see a detailed explanation of your results inside your profile, so no need for multiple visits to the clinic over several months. 

Step 2: Medication

Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, your doctor may prescribe medication to help prepare your ovaries for stimulation. This may be birth control pills, estrogen, or other medications to ensure your follicles react similarly to the next medications.  

Your doctor will do more blood tests or ultrasounds and then give you the all-clear to begin ovarian stimulation. This involves giving yourself daily hormonal injections over 10–12 days which tell your ovaries to produce multiple eggs during a cycle (since normally just one mature egg is released by the ovaries per cycle). 

Once your follicles are a good size, a healthcare provider will give you an injection of medication (human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG, lupron, or both) to trigger your ovaries to release the eggs.

Step 3: Egg retrieval

Before the procedure, you’ll be given an IV with anesthesia which will put you to sleep. To get the eggs from your ovaries, your doctor will perform a vaginal ultrasound with a needle that is inserted into your follicles to collect the fluid inside containing your eggs. 

When you wake up, your doctor can tell you how many eggs they were able to retrieve. Depending on your age and ovarian reserve, it may be necessary to undergo more than one cycle in order to freeze enough eggs to have a high chance of success later on. 

Women under 34 with a good ovarian reserve may be able to freeze the optimal number of eggs in just one cycle. 

Recovery after egg freezing

Some women experience cramping, bloating, constipation, and vaginal spotting within 24 hours of their egg retrieval procedure. An over-the-counter painkiller or heating pad can help relieve some of the discomfort.

If you have stabbing abdominal pain, feel faint, or experience heavy bleeding, let your doctor know right away.

Potential risks of egg freezing

The majority of women only experience some discomfort during the medication administration and right after the egg retrieval procedure, but there is a very small chance of a complication called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

The medication to stimulate the ovaries can cause fatigue, nausea, headaches, abdominal pain, breast tenderness, and irritability (this happens between 3–6% of the time). OHSS can also cause the ovaries to become enlarged, fluid may leak into the abdomen, and electrolytes in the body can become out of balance.

As far as babies born using frozen eggs go, studies find that there is no greater risk of birth defects than when babies are conceived naturally.

How much does egg freezing cost?

Most insurance policies don’t cover the costs of egg freezing unless you’re doing it for medical reasons (such as before having cancer treatment). If your employer offers comprehensive fertility benefits including benefits for elective treatments, chances are high that egg freezing is covered. 

Costs can differ from clinic to clinic and state to state, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per cycle (not including the cost of medication). Medications can range from $2,000 to $7,000. 

There are also costs associated with storing your frozen eggs, which can be around $500–$1,200 per year. 

You can discuss the costs and discount options individually with your clinic’s financial coordinator.

Although the costs associated with egg freezing are high, in the long run, it could actually save you money. How? Because the chances of IVF success are higher when using frozen eggs, meaning that fewer cycles will likely be needed.

Is there a “use by” date?

You can store your eggs for many years and they won’t decline in quality – there’s no “expiration date” on frozen eggs. Your chances of success depend on how old you were when you froze your eggs and how many eggs were retrieved. 

A 2021 review published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics reported data from a large Spanish study that found a 94.4% chance of at least one successful pregnancy when freezing 24 eggs under the age of 35. Freezing 14 mature eggs under the age of 35 yields about an 80% chance of future success.

For more stats on the usage of frozen eggs and success rates, check out our article.

This article has been reviewed by a physician

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