Egg freezing, or mature oocyte cryopreservation in medical jargon, involves taking medications to stimulate your ovaries, harvesting multiple “ripe” eggs, and then quickly freezing them at subzero temperatures until you are ready to start or grow your family. As simple as that may sound, egg freezing raises complicated questions for many people interested in preserving their fertility. Read on to learn the answers to the most frequently asked questions about egg freezing.
When should I freeze my eggs?
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), elective egg freezing is most successful for women younger than 38 years. Elective egg freezing is when you voluntarily choose to freeze your eggs as a type of insurance plan against natural aging — not because you have a medical condition such as cancer that might harm the eggs in your ovaries (called oocytes).
With age, the likelihood of problems with the chromosomes inside your eggs increases. Chromosomes are the building blocks of your DNA or genetic information. Egg freezing allows you to use “younger” eggs when you want to get pregnant. With age, there are:
- Higher rates of infertility
- Fewer eggs can be harvested
- Lower IVF success rates
- Increased rates of miscarriage
- Higher rates of congenital disabilities
- Higher-risk pregnancies for people who are pregnant when they are older than 35 increase
People who freeze their eggs before age 34 have the highest overall live birth rates. So, while egg freezing does help you slow down your biological clock, you can not push pause forever. Data from fertility centers indicate that most women 38 and younger can expect to harvest 10-20 eggs per cycle. The more eggs your doctor can collect, the higher your chances of a successful live birth. So, the ideal window for egg freezing is somewhere between 34-38 years old.
How much does egg freezing cost?
You can expect to pay $30,000-$40,000 to freeze your eggs. The average cost per cycle of just the medical procedure (harvesting) ranges between $10,000-$20,000. It will cost $500-$600 per year to store your eggs.
Costs will increase or decrease depending upon how many cycles you need to do to freeze the recommended number of eggs (usually around 10). The average person must go through about two cycles to reach this number. The older you are, the more likely you will need multiple cycles, and your medication costs may increase.
Some commercial health insurance plans will cover the cost of some of the prescription medications used to stimulate your ovaries. However, without any insurance coverage, drug costs can run $2,000-$5,000 per cycle.
Where you live in the country can impact how much egg freezing will cost you, and costs vary even city by city within the same state. If you live far from medical centers, lost wages due to medical appointments and transportation costs can add up quickly.
Employer-financed egg freezing or fertility benefits changed many people’s financial calculus for egg freezing. As of 2020, about one out of every five (20 percent) US companies offered coverage for egg freezing. Apple and Facebook pay their employees up to $20,000 for egg freezing.
Egg freezing costs do not include the cost of thawing and implantation via in vitro fertilization (IVF), which as of 2019, ranged from $10,000-$15,000 per IVF cycle, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). Some people will also need to factor in the potential purchase of donor sperm (around $1,000), other assisted reproductive technologies (like assisted hatching or ICSI treatment), or embryo freezing ($200-$800 annual storage fee).
How long does the egg freezing process take?
One egg freezing cycle takes approximately 3-4 weeks. This includes:
- 1-2 weeks of birth control pills or other medication to temporarily turn off your natural hormones
- 9-10 days of hormone injections to stimulate your ovaries and ripen multiple eggs.
During the ten or so days of hormone injections, you will have to make frequent visits (usually at least five appointments in ten days) to your fertility clinic or doctor for vaginal ultrasounds to monitor your eggs and find the right time for harvesting.
The actual egg retrieval procedure takes only about 15-30 minutes, however, you will need to spend several hours after your retrieval at your clinic for observation before you can head home. People report that they usually can return to work and other normal activities within 1-2 days.
It takes most people 2-3 cycles to harvest the recommended 10-20 eggs for freezing. So, depending on your baseline fertility, age, and response to the ovulation stimulation medications, you can count on your egg freezing endeavor taking somewhere between 9-12 weeks, best case scenario.
Is egg freezing safe?
The actual procedure to harvest your eggs is a very low-risk surgical procedure. Egg harvesting carries about the same amount of risk as undergoing IVF. Surgical procedures like egg harvesting and IVF have small risks such as:
- Problems with the anesthesia (the medicines used to put you to sleep for the procedure)
- Injury from the needle passing through your vaginal wall to remove the eggs from your ovary
- Infection after the surgery
The main risks associated with egg freezing come from the regimen of fertility medications you take before egg harvesting (the ovarian stimulation protocol). These medications send your ovaries into overdrive, stimulating multiple eggs to develop simultaneously.
Fertility medications can cause something called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). If the medicines over-stimulate your ovaries, they can swell, become painful, and cause fluid to build up in your belly, making you nauseous and bloated. One out of three women has symptoms of mild OHSS during controlled ovarian stimulation, but very few women go on to develop severe OHSS, which requires hospitalization.
Egg freezing also carries the emotional risk of undergoing a complicated and uncertain medical procedure. Many fertility medications can cause mood changes. The stress of navigating complex medication injections, multiple doctors’ appointments, and the unpredictability of the results can take a mental toll.
Navigating fertility or infertility can have psychological, financial, and socio-cultural consequences and it’s essential that you look out for your mental wellbeing.
How many eggs should I store?
This calculation is based upon the biological reality that not every egg makes an embryo, not every embryo makes a pregnancy, and not every pregnancy makes a baby. Eggs are lost at each stage, from thawing, to fertilization, to development into an embryo, to transferring the embryo into a womb. And so, the chance that a single frozen egg will lead to a live birth is about 2 to 12 percent, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
So what is the magic number? Fertility experts and clinics worldwide seem to land on the number ten. Research shows you may expect to retrieve about 14 mature eggs on average if you’re 36 and under, about ten if you’re 37-39, about nine if you’re 40-42, and about seven if you are 43 or older.
How long can eggs stay frozen?
Babies have been born from eggs frozen for as long as 14 years. Most people store eggs for five to 10 years. In vitrification, scientists remove the fluid from your eggs and replace it with a chemical version of antifreeze that increases successful fertilization, implantation, and live birth rates.E mbryos do tend to thaw better than unfertilized eggs. If there is a partner in the picture or already a plan to use donor sperm, it’s worth considering freezing embryos. It’s possible to do a mix of both embryos and unfertilized eggs.
The bigger time limits on egg freezing are age and the cost of storage. As people become older (in their 40s and 50s), IVF success rates decline, and they are at higher risk for miscarriage and other pregnancy complications. The chance of becoming pregnant after implantation is roughly 30 to 60 percent, depending on how old you are when you freeze your eggs. Some people opt for a surrogate, which carries a separate set of considerations and costs.
Your egg freezing decision
The decision to freeze your eggs can seem almost as big as deciding whether you want to become a parent. Egg freezing is one option that can buy you some time as you consider parenthood. However, it’s not for everyone. If you’re in the process of making this decision, speak with your provider for guidance and to your community for support.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
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