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When Should I Begin to Consider Freezing My Eggs?

April 14, 2017

The average age of first-time mothers has increased over the last 15 years, from 24.9 years old to 26.3 years old, according to government data.

More women are delaying motherhood for several reasons, including pursuing higher education and focusing on their careers. We know medically that for women ages 35 and older, it may take longer to get pregnant or there may be increased risk for complications, including infertility, miscarriage, gestational diabetes and ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg grows outside the uterus.

Many women who want to increase their chances of motherhood and have a healthy pregnancy are considering freezing their eggs. If you are weighing whether to pursue this option, there are several things you should know:

How Does Freezing Your Eggs Work?

Egg freezing, or embryo cryopreservation, has been used for fertility preservation since 1983. Over 200,000 live births have resulted from this procedure. The process begins with  woman taking fertility drugs, very similar to the first stage of in vitro fertilization for infertility. These drugs help a woman produce more than one egg. Patients are closely monitored by a fertility specialist or a reproductive endocrinologist throughout this process. Once the eggs are ready for retrieval, we put the patient under general anesthesia to retrieve them. After this, we determine which eggs are the best quality and freeze them. 

Eggs can be frozen with or without sperm. In the first scenario, an egg is retrieved from the ovary and then fertilized with sperm in the laboratory. The resulting embryos then are cryopreserved and stored until the woman is ready to attempt to conceive. In the second scenario, when a woman is ready to become pregnant the eggs are thawed, fertilized with sperm and then these embryos are transferred into the uterus.

What is the Best Age to Freeze Your Eggs?

There isn’t really a straightforward answer to this. If you’re in your 20s, you probably have several years before fertility declines. Age 35 and older is what we consider “advanced maternal age,” when egg quality begins to decline. However, age isn’t the only factor that determines good ovarian function and egg quality. If you’ve had a condition like endometriosis (a painful condition where the tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow outside of it) or have had cancer, you may want to talk to your doctor about your reproductive options.

If you’re in your 30s and don’t plan to have a family within the next several years, then freezing your eggs is worthwhile to consider. It’s unclear whether women who are in their 40s or older actually benefit greatly from freezing their eggs. However, we do know that women who have frozen their eggs before this age have a better chance of getting pregnant because they tend to have better egg quality, and women who freeze their eggs in their 20s and 30s also benefit more once these eggs are thawed and implanted when they try to have a baby over 40.

How Long Can Frozen Eggs Be Stored?

Again, there’s no clear answer to this, as the research has been inconclusive. However, we do know that the longer eggs are stored, the less likely they are to remain viable because of the risks of ice crystal formation, which jeopardizes the quality of the egg. There have been reports of eggs being viable after being stored for around 10 years, but I’d urge any woman who has gone through the intensive process of freezing her eggs to not wait a decade or more to use them. Of course, everyone’s situation is different and having a partner with whom you’d like to have a child may not happen right away, so every woman will have to decide what’s best for her situation.

How Much Does It Cost?

The average cost of one cycle of egg freezing is between $10,000 and $15,000 dollars. There’s also an annual cost to store the eggs — all of which isn’t covered by insurance.

What are the Risks?

When you freeze your eggs, you must take fertility drugs to increase fertilization. These drugs include hormones that in rare cases may cause painful swelling in the ovaries after your doctor retrieves the eggs. In rarer cases, bleeding, damage or an infection may occur in the bladder, bowel or blood vessels during the egg retrieval process. However, the biggest risk for patients is that there’s no guarantee egg freezing will be successful. Patients need to be aware that the process isn’t foolproof, even if you have great egg quality and ovarian function.

Whether or not to freeze your eggs is a personal decision for every woman. For women who know they want to become mothers but aren’t yet ready for children, undergoing this process may be the best way to increase their chances of motherhood. However, the process is expensive and comes with certain risks, however rare. If you are considering egg freezing, schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist or reproductive endocrinologist who can walk you through the process and give you all the relevant information so you can make an informed decision.