Egg Freezing 101: What You Need to Know
Written by Rebekah Louise. Reviewed by Dr. Phoebe Howells.
To freeze your eggs or not freeze your eggs—that is the question! Deciding whether to freeze your eggs to possibly prolong your fertility window is a big decision.
If you’re wondering if it’s right for you and you’ve got questions running through your mind, then this article is for you. Let’s get cracking…
What Is Egg Freezing?
Egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation) can be a process of preserving fertility. It involves collecting a woman’s eggs from her ovaries and freezing them in liquid nitrogen. There are various reasons why women choose to freeze their eggs and they often fall into either of these two categories, medical or non-medical.
Medical reasons may include health conditions or treatments that may affect fertility— for example, cancer treatments. In these circumstances, it’s likely that the NHS will pay for your fertility treatment.
Non-medical reasons can include waiting until you’ve met a partner, wanting to progress in your career, or financial reasons. We’ll delve into more detail about this shortly.
What’s The Process To Freeze My Eggs?
Once you’ve decided that egg freezing is for you, the process may look similar to this:
Screening: Your doctor may recommend various tests including blood tests for HIV and hepatitis. It’s likely that your doctor will check your hormone levels, test for any sexually transmitted infections, and offer you a smear test.
Stimulate ovaries: To stimulate your ovaries your doctor will prescribe fertility medication. This will cause you to produce multiple mature eggs. To make sure everything is okay, your doctor will carry out regular scans and blood tests.
Egg retrieval: Your doctor will collect your eggs whilst you’re under a sedation.
Freezing the egg: The fertility clinic will store your eggs in tanks of liquid nitrogen until you're ready to either use them or you no longer wish to keep them.
It’s understandable if this process seems overwhelming—remember it’s more than okay to ask (and keep asking) questions as you go along.
What Is Social Egg Freezing?
Social egg freezing (SEF) is gaining popularity. Let’s take a look at the stats - in 2019, around 2,500 egg storage cycles took place, and by 2021, that increased to over 4,200.
Side note: The term elective egg freezing (EEF) is often preferred because using the word ‘social’ can reinforce the impact and role that society plays in deciding when a woman ‘should’ have a baby.
Let’s take a look at the reasons women may choose to freeze their eggs, this can include:
- not being ready to have a child
- not having a partner
- wanting to achieve financial stability
- finishing education
- working towards career development or promotional goals
Because of the social aspect of choosing to freeze your eggs, how these services are being marketed to attract women’s attention is changing. We’ve even come across egg freezing being sold to women during wine and cheese parties!
Ask your clinic for full details on the costs (including where multiple cycles to collect enough eggs might be necessary), possible risks, and complications of egg freezing.
It is also vital that any marketing in this space makes it clear there are no guarantees that freezing your eggs will result in a healthy pregnancy and birth. Instead of a casual approach to egg freezing, clinics need to make sure that they’re informing women on the success rates of egg freezing, and how success declines around her late 30s to early 40s (more info on this shortly). Egg freezing should not be glamorised as a quick and easy option for preserving your fertility.
Social Egg Freezing In The Workplace
Egg freezing may offer gender equality to women as they place their biological clock on ice. Some argue it can offer women in the workplace the option to advance in their careers, whilst taking the pressure off of when to have a baby.
Some companies are even offering SEF as an employment benefit. This may be a positive for some women as it gives them the option to focus on their work and potentially use their frozen eggs to have a baby at some point in the future.
However, if egg freezing is being offered as an employment benefit, some women may feel pressure to freeze their eggs. It could also leave space for employers to question their staff’s commitment if they don’t take up the offer of freezing their eggs.
There are other options available to employers that can be more inclusive. For example, employers can offer family-friendly work environments, flexible working, and offer childcare cost contributions. And of course, employers could consider the option of providing both SEF and family-friendly workplace settings.
Egg freezing alone isn't necessarily the solution. Women also need to feel supported in the workplace so, should they wish to, they feel able to plan for parenthood without worrying it might negatively impact their careers. We need to think about how society can adapt and change to support women who’d like to start a family, rather than fertility companies, employers, and the media declaring that egg-freezing is the answer.
How Old Should I Be When I Freeze My Eggs?
The answer to this question is a personal one and there isn’t a right or wrong answer.
How many eggs your doctor wishes to collect can depend on your age. The younger you are the more likely your doctor will be able to collect the necessary amount of healthy eggs using fewer cycles.
The HEFA suggests that women aged 38 years and under with a healthy amount of eggs have a higher chance of becoming pregnant in the future. At this age, your doctor may want to collect around 7–14 eggs. This may mean that you’ll need to have more ovary simulation cycles to collect them all.
If you’re older you may need more fertility medication to produce more eggs per cycle as your eggs may be of lower quality. Collecting more eggs may improve your chances of the eggs surviving the freezing and thawing process.
A review shows that, although freezing eggs allows you to use them later in life, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t guarantee you will fall pregnant.
Getting pregnant at a later age can cause pregnancy complications for both you and your baby. Yet, fertility clinics are not necessarily sharing this. Therefore, it’s important to find a clinic that provides accurate information, counselling, and support, as egg freezing is not a guarantee of a successful pregnancy.
Before the 1st of July 2022, women were not able to store their eggs for longer than 10 years unless it was for medical reasons. This meant that women chose to wait until they were in their mid to late 30s before freezing their eggs. This then, of course, meant that there was a lower chance of a successful pregnancy.
However, as of the 1st of July 2022, eggs can be frozen for up to 55 years. This is great for women who can afford to freeze their eggs from an earlier age and offers them a better chance of pregnancy.
Is Egg Freezing Safe?
Undergoing any fertility treatment is often a safe procedure, however, there are some risks that your doctor should speak to you about so you can make an informed decision. Freezing your eggs carries the risk of pelvic pain, pelvic infections, internal bleeding, and damage to the organs around your womb including your bladder and rectum.
Another possibility is that you may experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). OHSS happens when your ovaries make too many eggs. This can happen when your ovaries over respond to the fertility drugs, usually in those women who have a lot of follicles in their ovaries before they begin.
Around 3–6% of women with OHSS will experience mild to moderate symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, nausea, sickness, breast tenderness, tummy pains, weight gain, and feeling irritable. The good news is that you can treat these symptoms yourself at home with pain relief, rest, and drinking plenty of fluids.
Severe OHSS can happen to 1–3% of women and symptoms can include breathing difficulties, dehydration, vomiting, not weeing enough or dark-coloured wee, swelling and soreness in your leg or chest, and tummy pains. If you start experiencing these symptoms, get medical help straight away.
How Much Does Egg Freezing Cost?
The price of egg freezing can vary according to which clinic you chose. From beginning to end you’re looking at around £7,000–£8,000.
Here’s an example of the breakdown in cost:
- Eggs collected and frozen, around £3,500
- Medication between £500–£1,500
- Blood tests, a virology screen and AMH test, around £400
- Storage costs between £125–£350 a year
- Thawing and transferring them to your womb costs around £2,500
It’s important to get clarity on how much you’ll be paying and remember to ask if there are any hidden costs.
You may also want to discuss the possibility of needing another round of egg collection. We suggest speaking to your doctor to see if they offer egg-freezing packages to reduce costs.
Takeaways from Egg Freezing
Here at OVUM, we feel egg freezing is a good fertility preservation option if you have the funds and fully understand the success rates involved once you decide to use the eggs later in life. Yes, it’s expensive, but we expect prices to decrease as the market becomes more competitive.
- Egg freezing is an option for women for medical and non-medical reasons (ie elective egg freezing).
- Egg freezing is not a guarantee for a successful pregnancy or birth.
- Women under the age of 38 have a higher chance of successfully becoming pregnant when using their frozen eggs.
- Women can store their eggs for 55 years which means women can freeze their eggs at a younger age which will improve their success rate.
- Egg freezing can cost between £7,000–£8,000.