An Introduction to Egg Freezing
Every day we wake up and are baffled that more women everywhere aren't freezing their eggs.
Whether you're motivated by preserving fertility or simply having more options, our team has first hand experience with how egg freezing can improve quality of life.
That said, we also understand that there are huge hurdles to understand what exactly egg freezing means for you, whether it's reliable, and what the process looks like.
While the procedure itself has become safer, more effective, and less costly, most of this information is locked up in hard to parse journal articles.
We're writing this guide with the goal of making it easier for women everywhere understand the pros and cons of freezing their eggs. If you end up deciding to explore further, our team at Lilia is happy to help you take your next steps.
Egg Freezing Definition
Egg freezing, oocyte cryopreservation in scientific terminology, is the term used to describe the process of medically stimulating the ovaries to develop many eggs at once so that a doctor can collect them.
Once they've been collected and frozen, they can be stored until you are ready to have them thawed, combined with sperm for fertilization, and transferred to a willing uterus (this could be yours, or that of a surrogate).
What is Egg Freezing
As we mentioned, oocyte or egg cryopreservation is the collection and cold storage of your eggs to be used for assisted reproductive technologies at a later date. Briefly, this process triggers the development of many eggs in your ovaries. These unfertilized eggs are then removed and stored for in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Freezing your eggs allows you to take control of your reproductive future and preserve your fertility. At Lilia, we think egg freezing is fantastic because it makes it easier for women to do, well, whatever the hell they want.
That said, deciding to freeze your eggs is no small choice. There are many factors to consider. If you choose to freeze your eggs, you commit to finding a clinic and doctor you trust and have a good reputation for successful oocyte cryopreservation.
Finding the ideal reproductive endocrinologist near you
takes time, but it’s critical because you will be committing to about a month of fertility treatments that will range from $12,000 to $19,000 in price.
Often we recommend that Lilia members start by choosing their ideal fertility clinic
, then identify the reproductive endocrinologist that best fits their needs.
Our team at Lilia
offers a dedicated concierge to help you find the perfect doctor and clinic for your needs and wishes. They know the ins and outs of fertility preservation, streamlining the entire process for you.
This takes the countless hours of scheduling, administrative work and puts the organizational aspect of your fertility preservation into the competent hands of someone else.
Plus, Lilia also offers member-only discounts and priority appointment access to partner clinics, so you can stop scrolling through Yelp and skip the line at the fertility clinic.
So how does the egg freezing process work?
Overall, the egg freezing process takes about 3-4 weeks per cycle, with all things considered. Each cycle has six main steps: consultation with a physician, pre-treatment, a hormone regime to stimulate eggs' development, an ovulation trigger, egg collection, and egg freezing. We'll break down the steps below:
Step 1: Choosing a Fertility Clinic
One of the trickiest parts of freezing your eggs is deciding which fertility clinic / reproductive endocrinologist (REI) you would like to handle your egg freezing. There are a number of factors to consider here ranging from costs and success rates to location and bedside manner. Our team at Lilia specializes in helping you find the perfect clinic, so if you’d like a hand just say hello.
Step 2: Visiting the Fertility Clinic
The egg freezing process formally begins with a clinic visit. They take a blood sample to test for infectious diseases (HIV, Hepatitis B/C) and get a complete picture of your hormone profile.
For those curious, there is extensive research
describing how anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) levels can predict the overall success of assisted reproductive technologies like egg collection and freezing.
When a doctor checks your AMH levels, it helps them determine the type of regime you will need to maximize egg collection. At this appointment, they might perform an ultrasound on your ovaries to observe your ovarian function.
Step 3: Pre-Treatment for Freezing Eggs
Following this, your REI is likely to prescribe a pre-treatment of hormonal contraceptive pills. The pre-treatment is to shut down your body's natural hormones to prepare your ovaries to be stimulated by external hormones. In some cases,
like when a woman has cancer, this pre-treatment might be skipped to save time.
Step 4: Treatment begins (Day 0 to ~14)
Once your treatment plan and hormone stimulation regime
has been determined, you will take daily injections to help as many eggs develop as possible for collection. These injections range from 10-14 days, depending on your hormone profile.
Your injections will include a synthetic hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which does as the name suggests and stimulates follicles to grow and support oocyte (egg) development.
Doctors will typically also prescribe second drug that ensure you don't ovulate too soon alongside your FSH injections.
This second drug will block the action of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Left unchecked, GnRH would stimulate the surge of luteinizing hormone necessary for ovulation, preventing your eggs from maturing to the point where they could be collected.
Throughout this process, you will be monitored by physicians and a team of specialists to be sure no syndromes are developing as a result of the treatment.
Once you reach the final days of your ovarian stimulation plan, you will have vaginal ultrasounds to see how the follicles are developing. This will tell your doctor if the unfertilized eggs in your ovary are ready to be taken out yet.
Step 4: Collection Day (Day ~14)
Once your follicles are developed and the oocytes are ready to be harvested, you will be given a trigger injection of a synthetic form of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). In most cases, this can be expected around day 14. The trigger injection helps the eggs go through the final steps of maturation so that you are ready for the egg to be removed from the ovary.
Though you may think that the most intimidating part of the egg collecting procedure is the final collection, this oocyte harvesting process is surprisingly simple.
For procedure day, you will visit your doctor's office or clinic for a quick outpatient procedure. They will put you under light sedation and perform a surgical procedure called "transvaginal ultrasound aspiration."
Let's unpack that term: A transvaginal ultrasound uses an ultrasound probe to see the follicles that have developed in the ovary. At the same time, a needle is guided through the vagina to those follicles. Aspiration is a medical term for suction, like when you're at the dentist. This process gently pulls developed oocytes out of the follicles where they've been developing for the past few weeks.
Here is a diagram of a follicle. The tiny white dot at the top is the developing oocyte or egg. When the eggs are collected, a needle gently breaks the follicle, and the mature egg is removed.
This process sounds complex, but it only takes about 5-10 minutes
, and then your eggs are off to be processed by fertility scientists. They will be stored in a large freezer until you want to use your frozen eggs for IVF.
When you are ready for in vitro
fertilization, the egg will need to be injected with sperm through a method called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). You can use donor sperm or sperm from a potential partner. Once your eggs are fertilized, the resulting embryo(s) can be transferred to your own uterus or the uterus of someone else if you wish to have as a surrogate carrier.
Step 5: Post-Procedure (Day 14 to 16)
After the procedure, you can expect some cramping due to your ovaries having been enlarged.
If you think about it, you've just made them do some significant heavy lifting; their productivity has gone from developing one egg a month to developing about 15.
As a result of this, you will probably want to take the day off work, but nearly everyone feels well enough to return to their routine in under seven days. During this time your doctor will likely keep a close eye on you to ensure there are no complications (though these are quite uncommon).
If you are sexually active with a partner who produces sperm at the time of ovarian stimulation, you will want to use contraception. It's always possible some eggs weren't harvested, and this could result in unintended pregnancy.
Does freezing your eggs hurt?
We've mentioned some medical procedures that can scare some folks, like needles and minor outpatient surgeries. The truth is most women we work with find the process far less painful and inconvenient than they expected.
That said, we're happy to paint a realistic picture of each step here:
First, let's talk about the daily injections. They can be uncomfortable, commonly bringing about a brief pinch of pain, but are quickly forgotten. Women report that they get used to them quickly, and they only last about 10-14 days.
This is followed by the egg retrieval procedure, which a doctor does in a clinic, and for which you are sedated. Given this, you can expect that there will be little to no pain.
As we mentioned, there can be some cramping from your ovaries getting a workout over the course of the month, but this is minimal and similar to most menstrual cramps.
Finally, as many people with uteruses can attest to, when their hormones are changing, they may be prone to fluctuations in mood often related to PMS. While the synthetic hormones are helping the eggs develop, they may also have unpleasant side effects on your mood.
These mood swings aren't necessarily physically painful but might take an emotional toll, so having a friend who’s aware of your treatment and happy to hop on a call is definitely advised.
Does egg freezing work?
The short answer is: most of the time yes, with the biggest factor in your success being the age at which you freeze your eggs.
Freezing earlier both means more eggs and higher quality eggs (as measured by survival rate), something we'll return to later.
The longer answer is a bit more complicated, largely because the data on egg freezing is skewed by who has traditionally frozen their eggs.
Many individuals who are having their eggs frozen are undergoing the procedure for medical reasons. In many cases these individuals have far lower odds of success than the average elective egg freezer.
Two other factors are end up making this data set rather hard to compare your self against.
First, an average of 8 to12 years typically passes between when someone freezes their eggs and when they would use them, meaning technology has often improved far beyond what is reflected in the data.
Second, many countries don't collect data on assistive reproductive therapy.
The end result here is that you should take every survey of average success rates with a grain of salt.
Egg freezing success rates
The best data here comes from SART
, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies. SART reports that egg freezing has about a 35%
rate of successful pregnancy across all ages. However, as mentioned above, this number likely artificially low if you’re healthy and under the age of 40.
A More Realistic Estimate
A large study
on egg freezing in Spain found that the probability of successful pregnancy and birth was as high as 94%
for individuals who freeze about 24 oocytes
and are 35 years or younger
at the time of egg freezing.In Summary
A rule of thumb you can pull from this data is that your odds of success approach 90%
as your frozen egg count approaches 20
If you'd like to dig further into your odds of success, you can view a simple egg freezing success calculator.
Egg freezing vs. embryo freezing
If you're worried about being able to collect a sufficient number of eggs (for example, if you have endometriosis or diminished ovarian reserve), one option you might consider is embryo freezing
.Egg freezing thaw rates
With egg freezing, only about 70% of eggs survive the thawing process. This is because eggs (oocytes) are massive cells, full of liquids and components needed for fertilization; this makes freezing them quite hard because you run the risk of crystals forming.
Today, a technique called vitrification
is used to help mitigate the formation of crystals during freezing.Embryo freezing thaw rates
When you instead freeze fertilized eggs (embryos), you benefit from the fact that biological make-up of an embryo is quite different.
Embryos have smaller cells and less liquid. As a result, any given frozen embryo has about 40% higher odds of resulting in a live birth than a frozen egg.
Fertility clinic success rates
While many clinics cluster around the same average success rate, some clinics demonstrate far higher live birth rates than others, particularly for older women considering egg freezing.
To make it easy for you to choose the perfect fertility clinic, our team at Lilia
has combined proprietary data with public success rates to help make sure you're guaranteeing yourself the highest odds of success.
What is the best age to freeze my eggs?
Briefly, the younger the better. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine
recommends that the best time to freeze your eggs is when you’re in your 20’s or early 30’s.
When we go home for the holidays, we're often telling our younger cousins that they should be considering egg freezing as soon as they can afford it.
One common misconception
among younger women is that the eggs themselves have an 'expiry date' once frozen.
There is no evidence
to suggest that the egg’s quality declines after a certain amount of time, and eggs can be kept frozen for a very long time (though some different geographies impose restrictions here, which we would be happy to talk you through).
Is there an age limit to egg freezing?
No, not really. There is no exact limit for the age a person can be when they decide to freeze their eggs.
It's important to note that, on average, people who produce eggs experience a severe fertility decline after age 35, both in egg quantity and quality.
That said, if you're willing to do multiple cycles of egg freezing, many women are able to reach 20 frozen eggs despite being much older than 35 years old.
As a result, you'll see that many clinics do not recommend
freezing eggs past the age of 38. Our take here is that every person is different, and you won't know until you begin testing what volume of eggs you can expect to retrieve. Many women have success in their late 30's, while others can struggle in their mid 20's based on their unique biology.
There are many conditions that may influence someone's fertility (endometriosis, PCOS, cancer, etc.) and thus impact their assisted reproductive outcomes. If you're thinking about freezing your eggs in your 40's, this could introduce some uncertainty into the process. Most clinics will assess your fertility past age 38 by examining your ovarian reserve.
If you're keen to learn more about your own biology, our team at Lilia can help you understand your personal timeline.
What are the risks associated with egg freezing?
A look at the risks of the procedure
Though freezing your eggs is a great option to preserve your fertility, like every surgery there are risks to consider.
To start, there are very minor risks inherent to the medical procedures, such as during needle aspiration or when receiving injections. The main risk when undergoing hormone injections is a syndrome called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
This is quite rare, with only about one severe case in 1000 women in 2016
, with rates continuing to fall annually. OHSS can range from mild to severe and is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Your clinic will be very aware of this risk and requires daily check-ins during the two weeks before your procedure to ensure you won't be impacted. A look at pregnancy related risks
There are also emerging studies on the effects of egg freezing on both the pregnancy and the babies born from frozen eggs. Most studies
examining pregnancy complications as a result of using frozen eggs are in women over 40 years of age. As there are increased pregnancy risks in general for women over 40, it's hard to understand what impacts are simply due to age as a confounding variable.
That said, there seem to be no dramatic differences between pregnancy risks
of women who use fresh eggs and women who use frozen eggs. Studies suggest that there are not any additional risks to the baby
or developing child. Published data
on babies born from frozen eggs have shown that even after six years of follow-up, there are no developmental abnormalities.
The children born from frozen eggs meet developmental milestones, and have comparable weights, heights, and sizes to children born without assisted reproductive therapy. There is, however, the risk that egg freezing will not lead to a successful pregnancy, and there is no guarantee that freezing your eggs will result in a future child.
To ensure you feel extra secure, our team at Lilia double evaluates whether a clinic/doctor has any outstanding malpractice suits, so that you can be sure you're engaging with a physician who proceeds with adequate care.
How much does it cost to freeze my eggs?
If you're looking for a comprehensive egg freezing cost guide
, we've written one up just for you. That said, we can give you a quick run-down below.There are two main costs associate with egg freezing:
1) Egg retrieval:
The ovarian stimulation and accompanying clinician appointments cost about $12,000-19,000. The cost for egg retrieval depends on the clinic and whether you will need multiple cycles to obtain your ideal number of frozen eggs.
This is a fee to store frozen eggs within your chosen clinic. According to Yale Medicine, this costs roughly $600 per year that you keep them stored.
Note that when you want to use your eggs you will need to undergo in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer. This varies but costs anywhere from $20,000 -40,000.
Some insurance companies can cover these costs, but it is essential to read the fine print before expecting them to contribute. Our team at Lilia can help walk you through exactly what your insurance covers
, and the all-in cost you can expect to pay by-clinic.
Note if the cost seems steep, you might be eligible for financing. Further, our team at Lilia offers discounts at a wide range of clinics; you can take the onboarding questionnaire
to see if you are eligible.
Why should I freeze my eggs?
People freeze their eggs for a wide range of reasons. Many folks with ovaries see egg freezing as a way to preserve their fertility and take control of their biological clocks (us included).
It's a great option if you aren't currently ready to conceive or become pregnant but think you might want to in the future.
There are medical reasons that someone may decide to preserve their fertility:
- Cancer, and chemotherapy treatment
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Autoimmune disease
- Being gender diverse/non-conforming or transgender
There are also personal reasons that someone may make this choice:
- To potentially save the highest quality eggs from your 20’s
- To pursue career goals
- Travel dreams
- Waiting to meet the right person
- Religious reasons for freezing eggs and not embryos
The women we've worked with have ubiquitously said that the procedure was an empowering one that allowed them to take hold of their reproductive future.
How do I start egg freezing?
If you’re thinking about freezing your eggs, seeing which clinics are a great match for you is a great start.
If you want to go it alone, you can start by consulting the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART) data to see which clinics have the highest success rates in your area.
If you'd like to move a bit more quickly (and conveniently) you can book a consult with Lilia
to kick off your personalized plan. Our team will set you up with the data, research, and recommendations designed to ensure you have the ideal egg freezing experience.