More and more women are waiting to have children, with around 20% having their first child after the age of 35. Unfortunately, age is also a growing cause of fertility problems. Freezing eggs or embryos allows you to preserve your fertility at its present state, so you can plan for a family in the future—when you’re ready.
You may want to consider freezing your eggs or embryos if you are:
- Undecided about future children
- Currently focused on other life events
- Still searching for the right partner
- Undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy
- Showing signs of early menopause
- Being deployed overseas in the US military
- Surgically transitioning from a female to a male
How it works
To freeze eggs or embryos—called cryopreservation—you’ll go through a process called in-vitro fertilization (IVF), during which your body will be stimulated to produce multiple eggs. After the eggs are retrieved, they will either be frozen right away, or fertilized with sperm to create embryos before being frozen.
When you’re ready to become pregnant in the future, your eggs or embryos will be thawed. If you’ve frozen eggs, they will be fertilized in a lab with sperm from your male partner or donor before being transferred into your uterus. If you’ve frozen embryos, they will be transferred right away.
Possible side effects*
Side effects from medications used in freezing cycles may include:
- Nausea, mood swings, and fatigue
- Breast tenderness and increased vaginal discharge
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition in which lots of follicles develop
Pelvic or abdominal pain can result from the egg retrieval procedure. Rarely, injury to organs near the ovaries or pelvic infection may also occur.
*This may not represent all side effects. Please discuss with your healthcare provider.
The success of IVF using frozen eggs and embryos depends on many factors, including:
- Your age and reproductive health at the time of cryopreservation
- The cryopreservation process your lab used
- How well the eggs or embryos survive the thawing process
- Variables during the IVF process, such as the quality of sperm used to fertilize the egg and the health of your uterus at transfer
It’s important to note that while the egg freezing process has seen many improvements over the past decade, pregnancy rates are still higher with frozen embryos than with frozen eggs.
Starting the process
Your first step is to make an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). These specialists have special training in fertility preservation care to help maintain a person’s ability to have children.
An RE will help you understand your fertility potential, the possible risks of delayed childbearing, and the egg freezing process, including cycle risks and side effects. Creating a discussion guide before your appointment can help you organize your thoughts and remind you of the topics you want to discuss.
What to expect in a cycle
A thorough assessment of your reproductive health is necessary before you begin your cycle. Your RE may conduct ultrasounds and blood work to assess your current fertility, including egg quantity and quality.
Your doctor will start you on injectable fertility medications similar to those used for ovulation induction (OI), a type of fertility treatment. These medications will be used for 8 to 14 days to stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Regular ultrasounds or blood tests will be conducted during this time to monitor the growth of your follicles (the fluid-filled sacs containing eggs) and your hormone levels.
Your doctor may also prescribe other medications during this time, such as drugs to prevent you from ovulating early.
When the eggs are nearly mature, you’ll receive a single injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which mimics the natural luteinizing hormone (LH) surge your body experiences before ovulation. This will trigger your ovaries to fully mature and prepare to release eggs.
Within 34 to 38 hours of this injection, your doctor will remove your mature eggs using a long needle and ultrasound guidance. Anesthesia will be used during the procedure to minimize discomfort.
On average, 8 to 15 eggs are retrieved. Some women may have spotting or discomfort for a few days after the procedure, but injury and infection are rare.
If you’re undergoing embryo cryopreservation, your eggs will be fertilized in the lab using sperm from your male partner or a sperm donor.
Your eggs or embryos will be frozen for future use and stored in tubes in a liquid nitrogen storage tank.
The length of time a clinic will store your eggs or embryos varies. You and your doctor will discuss storage time and plans should you elect not to use them.
The entire process can take less than a month to complete. Some women may need to undergo more than one freezing cycle to retrieve an adequate number of eggs. Your doctor can help determine the exact number needed, but in general, fertility experts recommend freezing:
- 10 to 30 eggs
- 20 or more embryos