What Every Woman Should Know Before Freezing Her Eggs
Egg freezing (or oocyte cryopreservation) is an increasingly popular fertility preservation method used to increase a woman’s chances of having a baby as she ages. Those who want to become parents but worry about their chances of conceiving may find some peace of mind through freezing their eggs. Due to the expense of this procedure, though, whether to cryopreserve your eggs can be a difficult choice.
How the Egg-Freezing Process Works
Women have the option of either freezing their eggs or freezing embryos (fertilized eggs). Either way, after a screening process, the patient must first stimulate their ovaries to produce multiple eggs at a time instead of just one monthly egg. This is achieved through hormone injections, which are generally done over the course of 10 to 12 days. Women are monitored by their doctors during this time.
When enough eggs have matured, the egg-retrieval process is performed. This procedure is performed under sedation, and involves your doctor using an ultrasound, a needle and a suction device to extract the eggs. The retrieved eggs are then flash frozen or, in the case of freezing embryos, first fertilized and then frozen. This process, called vitrification, is so highly specialized that ice crystals are unable to form on the eggs, thus keeping them safe.
Both during and after the process of oocyte cryopreservation, some women may experience side effects. The most common are symptoms similar to PMS during the hormone injection phase. Women also may have cramping and bloating after the procedure itself. Fortunately, the entire procedure takes only about three weeks to complete.
Reasons for Egg Freezing
Simply put, oocyte cryopreservation allows people to protect their future fertility. While this decision is different for everyone, the two main reasons women choose to freeze their eggs are because of lifestyle choices and medical necessity.
Whether for personal reasons, career or education advancement or not having yet found a suitable partner, many women choose to delay motherhood. In fact, the age of women having their first baby has risen significantly over the last four decades, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As fertility starts to decline for women once they hit age 30 — and even more rapidly after the age of 35 — egg freezing is a viable option for those who have decided ahead of time to wait to start a family.
Patients set to undergo certain cancer treatments also face making a decision about fertility. Chemotherapy, radiation and certain surgeries can endanger reproductive health and cause irreversible damage in both women and men. (In rare cases, treatment for cancer may have the opposite effect.) Thus, undergoing egg freezing beforehand can provide a great deal of relief.
In general, women who have cancer, lupus, sickle cell anemia or other conditions known to affect fertility should seek advice from their doctors. No one should feel alone when considering their options for assisted reproductive strategies.
Safety and Effectiveness
In 2012, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine declared that egg freezing was no longer considered experimental. They also asserted egg freezing is an ethical fertility treatment. Now, due to more scientific advancements, pregnancy rates — as well as the health of delivered babies — have further proven oocyte cryopreservation to be a safe and viable option.
While no fertility preservation method has a 100% guarantee, the chances of oocyte cryopreservation being effective increase depending on when women have the procedure done. Due to the natural decrease in fertility over time, it’s recommended for women to freeze their eggs before the age of 35, or at least before the age of 40.
The first step for anyone interested in this procedure is to contact their doctor. Opening up a discussion about fertility options can allow women to further evaluate whether undergoing egg freezing is the right choice for them.
Are You Interested in Learning More About Women's Health?
Sign up for our e-newsletter to have the latest health and wellness news from Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies delivered to your inbox.Sign Up Here