In recent news and media coverage, you may have heard about the increasing number of women who choose egg freezing as a way to delay childbearing without the risk of their most fertile years passing them by. That’s because the popularity of this process is on the rise.
“I’m seeing a lot more patients coming in for egg freezing,” says Suleena Kansal Kalra, MD, MSCE at Penn Fertility Care.
“Women come in and say, ‘You know what? I’m traveling a lot; I’m building my career; I’m 37 years old. I haven’t met Mr. Right, and I’m really not sure I’m going to in the next year or so, and I want to do something to take charge of my fertility.’”
Here’s what you should know about how egg freezing works and if it’s the right option for you.
What is the Egg-Freezing Process?
During a normal menstrual cycle, “there’s a signal from your brain each month to release one egg,” Dr. Kalra explains. “But we want 10 or more for egg freezing.”
Egg freezing is done in three steps:
1. Hormone injections stimulate your ovaries to produce many eggs.
2. A physician monitors your eggs and hormone levels.
3. The eggs are retrieved, using a transvaginal ultrasound to guide the process, and are immediately frozen.
“Women take about 10 to 12 days of shots on average, and they come in for bloodwork and monitoring,” says Dr. Kalra. “Then we do the egg retrieval, generally within about two weeks of starting the medication. The eggs are flash frozen in a process called vitrification.”
Does Egg Freezing Work?
Over the past few years, oocyte cryopreservation has risen, from 475 women freezing their eggs in 2009 to 6,207 women in 2015, according to the most recent data from the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART). SART is a professional organization that helps maintain the standards of assisted reproductive technologies — including in vitro fertilization — in the United States.
As with any fertility treatment, “It’s not a guarantee, but it’s certainly an option,” Dr. Kalra explains.
As of 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, about 2,000 children had been born worldwide as a result of egg freezing. SART also stopped considering egg freezing an experimental procedure back in 2012, and conceiving using frozen eggs does not increase the risk of pregnancy complications or birth defects.
Is Egg Freezing the Right Option?
You may want to consider egg freezing if you know you want to have children, but you aren’t at the point in your life where you’re ready to become a parent.
Cancer patients may also want to consider egg freezing as a means of fertility preservation before having chemotherapy.
“Ideally, the best time to do it is before 35. The idea is to do it before your egg supply is starting to decline more rapidly,” Dr. Kalra says. “You can come back when you’re 40 and think that you’re at the point where you’re ready to start your family.”
As for how long eggs can stay frozen, “There’s no expiration date,” Dr. Kalra says. “But the ideal time to come back for your eggs is when you’re healthy and in good shape.”
Ultimately, the decision to freeze your eggs is one you must make carefully. If you’re considering egg freezing, a Penn Fertility Care specialist can talk to you about your options.