Planning to have a baby in the future but not sure if now’s the right time? Egg freezing (also known as oocyte cryopreservation) might be a great option to consider.
Choosing to preserve your fertility by freezing your eggs is equivalent to stopping your biological clock. It’s an increasingly common decision being made by women who may not be ready to start their family yet, but want the best chance at having children in the future—regardless of their age. Egg freezing is also used to help preserve the fertility of patients undergoing treatment for cancer or those who are planning on transitioning. It’s an option every woman should consider by the age of 35 if they want children but simply aren’t ready yet.
As a reproductive endocrinologist at Illume Fertility, I work with patients every day who want to understand their options for future family building. Let’s explore the most common questions and concerns about egg freezing.
Here are the most important things to know about egg freezing
1. When is the best age to freeze your eggs?
Not surprisingly, the best time to freeze your eggs is when you’re young. While it is possible for women over 35 to successfully freeze their eggs, completing an egg retrieval before age 35 is optimal, because of the decline in fertility that begins around that time.
The best way to understand your personal chances of success is to get a full fertility assessment and speak with a fertility specialist. The ideal age is likely 25 to 32.
Your doctor can assess your current egg reserves with bloodwork and ultrasound.
2. How much does it cost to freeze your eggs?
Currently, most insurance providers do not cover cryopreservation. However, you should explore your personal insurance plan to determine any coverage.
Egg freezing typically costs between $6,000-$10,000. You should factor in the cost of annual storage fees. However, assistance programs do exist for patients with medical indications for cryopreservation, such as cancer.
Some fertility clinics also offer payment plans.
3. What are the success rates for egg freezing?
Since egg freezing is a relatively new technology and most frozen eggs haven’t been thawed for use yet, there isn’t much data to establish success rates.
However, the available data published by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) shows that live birth rates from frozen eggs range from 12% to 37%, depending on whether or not donor eggs were used.
Success rates vary between different fertility clinics, so it is important to do thorough research before choosing one in order to ensure your best chance of success.
4. How does egg freezing actually work?
The egg freezing process begins with taking fertility medications to boost the number of eggs developing (also referred to as ovarian stimulation). After you begin those medications, your fertility clinic will monitor you using bloodwork and ultrasound to check your progress.
Once we see the optimal amount of larger follicles (which contain maturing eggs), you will take a “trigger shot” (an injection to signal your body to mature and prepare those eggs to receive sperm) and have your egg retrieval around 36 hours later, prior to ovulation.
The actual egg retrieval is about a 15 to 30 minute procedure. You will be sedated while your doctor uses a special ultrasound with an integrated needle to access your ovaries and remove the eggs inside each follicle. The eggs will then be evaluated for maturity, cleaned and frozen by an IVF lab embryologist. This is completed using a rapid freezing process called vitrification.
5. How long do frozen eggs last?
Currently, there is no known limit to the amount of time frozen eggs can be stored. These frozen eggs can then be thawed when you decide you are ready to try to start a family.
6. How many eggs do I need to freeze to achieve a successful pregnancy?
It’s hard to provide an answer about the ideal number of eggs to freeze because every case needs to be personalized to the individual patient. However, your potential for success does correlate with your age, which is why I encourage patients to consider freezing their eggs before age 32.
While egg quality is more important than egg quantity, you should also understand attrition rates. Put simply, attrition means that the amount of eggs retrieved won’t be equal to the number of mature, healthy eggs (and eventually embryos) that you end up with. The attrition rate from a cryopreserved egg to a high-quality embryo is significant.
Ideally, we like to have a minimum of 10 eggs stored to give you the best chance of having at least one child in the future. Always talk to your doctor for personalized guidance and more information.
7. What are the typical side effects of egg retrieval?
Some of the most common side effects of egg retrieval are:
- Feeling of fullness
- Pelvic cramping
- Pain at the injection site
- Anxiety about the process
In rare cases, patients can develop a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which occurs when the ovaries have a strong response to the fertility medications prescribed. This can require additional monitoring and management. However, severe OHSS only affects around 3% of patients.
8. What factors can impact success with egg freezing?
In addition to your age, low ovarian reserve, smoking, poor ovarian response to stimulant medications, low egg quality, your genetics and any existing disorders or diseases can impact success with egg freezing.
Keep in mind that every body is different! Your fertility specialist can help you understand your personal chances of success.
A note from Motherly
Whether you are considering egg freezing now or in the future, know that you have options to help pause your biological clock and hopefully preserve your fertility. Choose a fertility specialist you can trust, ask about their experience with cryopreservation, look at their success rates, get a full fertility assessment and then explore what the best path is for you.
About the author
Mark Leondires, MD is a reproductive endocrinologist and OB/GYN who founded fertility practice Illume Fertility and Gay Parents To Be, the leading international fertility program serving the LGBTQIA+ community. Dr. Leondires attended medical school at the University of Vermont, completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Maine Medical Center, and completed his fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Leondires believes that every patient deserves inclusive, expert fertility care. As a father via surrogacy himself, he combines his personal and professional experience to provide high-quality, compassionate care to all. You can learn more about Dr. Leondires and his work by visiting illumefertility.com and gayparentstobe.com or following @illumefertility and @gayparentstobe.