Egg Freezing 101

Who’s Doing It, Why and How

More and more high tech companies and other companies in competitive industries are offering oocyte cryopreservation, known as egg freezing, as a fertility benefit to employees.

Egg freezing for a long time was an experimental procedure, but in 2013 the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recognized that technology had advanced to the state where it isn’t experimental any more.  Egg freezing for fertility preservation is becoming more common.  Here’s what you need to know.

Who Is Choosing to Freeze Their Eggs?

Women who are having cancer treatment that may affect their ability to get pregnant in the future and who do not have a male partner are using egg freezing to preserve their eggs for future use.  Young women who are not ready to start a family but want to keep the ability to have a biological child in the future, women who are going to be deployed in the military, and those with a history of early menopause in their family also increasingly are opting to freeze their eggs.  Millennial young women are particularly open to oocyte cryopreservation, especially when they have not yet found a life partner.  A recent study found this was the major reason women invested in egg freezing, not because they are choosing to postpone childbearing out of concern for their careers.

Why Freeze Your Eggs?

Research has found that the age of the egg, not the age of the mother, is what drives success rates in IVF.  Older women who use donor eggs from young women in their 20s get pregnant at the same rate as young women do, and can have healthy babies.  Freezing your own eggs when you are younger is an insurance policy so you can postpone childbearing but still have a biological child later on.  Young women have a lot of different reasons to wait to get pregnant, including massive student loans, unstable income, lack of a partner to help raise a child, military deployment and other life issues.  Yet they don’t want to miss the opportunity to have a family.

How Does Oocyte Cryopreservation Work?

Egg freezing is done at many fertility centers across the country.  A reproductive endocrinologist evaluates the woman who wants to freeze her eggs, including tests of the quality and quantity of her eggs, and they agree on a course of treatment.  Her ovaries are stimulated with fertility medications to produce multiple eggs, and she is monitored via blood tests and vaginal ultrasound.  When the eggs are mature, they are extracted with a suction device.  The eggs are then flash-frozen in a process called vitrification.  The extraction is done under sedation.  It’s normal to feel some cramping afterward, and the ovaries may remain enlarged for weeks.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of freezing the eggs runs from $7,000 to $15,000.  However, that’s not the total cost.  You also pay for the fertility drugs to stimulate your ovaries to produce eggs, which can run into thousands of dollars.  Another cost is storage of the frozen eggs until you are ready to use them.  When you want to use the eggs, it’s important to remember that you will have to undergo IVF treatment or use a gestational surrogate who will have IVF treatment.  If the company you work for doesn’t offer fertility benefits, an IVF baby can cost up to $100,000 out of pocket, depending on how many IVF cycles and what dosage of fertility drugs you need.

How Well Does Egg Freezing Work?

There isn’t a lot of data yet on the use of frozen eggs in IVF.  Egg freezing is so new that the vast majority of frozen eggs have not yet been used.   A study published in 2010 examined the IVF success rates of 600 women using donor eggs, half of whom used fresh eggs and the other half used frozen eggs.  The researchers found no significant difference between fresh and frozen eggs in pregnancy rates.

To Freeze or Not to Freeze?

A woman in her early 20s really doesn’t need to worry about egg freezing yet, and has time to consider whether it fits with her hopes and plans for the future, unless she has a family history of early menopause or has a disease or condition that may affect her fertility, such as cancer, lupus, or sickle cell anemia.  By her early 30s she may want to take action, if she has fertility benefits and expects to have them in the future when she will need IVF, or if she can afford the cost on her own.  Transgender men who are transitioning may want to consider egg freezing if they want the capability to have a biological child and if they plan to have their ovaries removed or a hysterectomy.