Elective Egg Freezing

Elective egg freezing, oocyte cryopreservation, allows a woman to have her eggs harvested, frozen and stored for later use. Female fertility peaks in the early to mid 20s followed by an increasingly rapid rate of egg loss. By age 40, a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant is less than 5 percent per cycle.

Women who undergo elective egg freezing in their 20s often harvest a larger quantity of better quality eggs.

Why Freeze Eggs?

A woman may opt for elective egg freezing to preserve her reproductive potential for many reasons including the following:

How Elective Egg Freezing Works

Typically, only a single egg is released during ovulation. To stimulate the ovaries to release a larger number of mature eggs, fertility drugs – gonadotropins or follicle stimulating hormones– are given daily by injection 10 to 14 days prior to egg extraction. Gonadotropin-releasing hormones may also be given to prevent premature ovulation.

The egg harvest procedure is done under light sedation and takes around 20 minutes. Using a transvaginal ultrasound for guidance, your reproductive endocrinologist will insert a needle through the vaginal wall and into the ovaries. The eggs are gently suctioned into a sterile test tube and taken to the lab where they are analyzed for maturity.

Mature eggs are frozen using a cryopreservation technique which attempts to prevent ice crystals from forming and destroying the cellNow we use vitrification, a rapid freezing process that uses high initial concentrations of cryoprotectants and ultra-rapid cooling to freeze the eggs thus preventing the formation of intracellular ice crystals.

The frozen eggs remained stored until time for use. Once thawed, the eggs are fertilized with sperm in the lab and implanted into the uterus.  Not all frozen eggs will survive after thawing, but newer freezing methods like vitrification typically yield close survival rates close to 90%.

Pros & Cons of Elective Egg Freezing

Not every woman is a candidate for elective egg freezing. For this reason, your fertility specialist will conduct screening tests prior to starting the egg freezing process.

Even if you are deemed to be a suitable candidate, it doesn’t guarantee that elective egg freezing will result in a baby. Eggs are fragile, and although it varies from clinic to clinic, pregnancy rates are similar to or lower than those seen in traditional in vitro fertilization.   Data available from IVF for many years suggests only about 4-5 eggs per 100 result in a living child.  Therefore, we typically recommend that a woman should plan to freeze 15-20 eggs for a very good chance of successful pregnancy.  While some women may accomplish this in 1 cycle, for most this will take 2-3 cycles.

Elective egg freezing is also usually an out-of-pocket expense and is not covered by most insurance policies. Depending on where you live, each  egg freezing cycle may cost up to $5-10,000 excluding the later cost of thawing, fertilization or transfer.

If you are considering elective egg freezing, talk with a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist about the process and whether or not it is right for you.

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