Written by Dr Irfana Koita
Egg Freezing is a popular treatment for women who would like to have children later in life and allows women to delay pregnancy until later on. Dr Irfana Koita, Fertility Consultant and founder & director of IVF Matters, gives more insight into the procedure and what to keep in mind when thinking about freezing your eggs.
Who should consider freezing their eggs?
Women may choose to freeze their eggs for a variety of reasons:
- Haven’t yet met the right partner
- Not quite ready to start a family
- Want to focus on building a career
- For other health and medical reasons
How long has Egg Freezing been around as an option for women?
The first birth from frozen eggs using vitrification was documented back in 1999, followed by the UK’s fertility regulators, HFEA, permitting egg freezing treatments to be offered by clinics in the UK from 2000.
Whilst the technology to preserve eggs has been around for quite a while now, the process and scientific methods for vitrification have vastly improved in recent years. With the previous ‘slow freeze’ method, only a small number of eggs survived the ‘freeze and thaw’ process. Nowadays, with the new ‘flash freeze’ method, more than 80% of the preserved eggs survive.
Is there a specific age that I should freeze my eggs?
If you are considering freezing your eggs, the sooner the better. Women are born with a finite number of eggs in their ovaries. As a woman matures and commences her menstrual cycles, her egg store slowly decreases over time and as she ages, unfortunately her egg’s DNA will begin to degrade, leading to an overall decline in egg quality.
Women concerned about their egg reserve can seek to assess this by performing a fertility scan and a hormonal profile in the first five days of their menstrual cycle.
How many eggs do I need to preserve to achieve a successful pregnancy in the future?
For each client, the aim is to retrieve and preserve about 20 mature eggs to achieve a successful pregnancy in the future. Most women under 35 can produce up to 10 eggs per cycle.
Depending on your age and ovarian reserve, it may be recommended to have more than one cycle of treatment to ensure you have sufficient good quality eggs in preservation for future use.
Does the Egg Freezing process require me to take time off work?
The majority of women can continue working throughout the monitoring process but you will require a couple of days off work after the egg-retrieval procedure itself.
What is the process for treatment?
It’s a common misconception that Egg Freezing requires months of treatment, but that is not the case. The whole process will require some preparatory evaluation, followed by 9 to 10 days of injections to stimulate the ovaries and culminates in a 20-minute egg retrieval procedure. Eggs are collected under sedation and immediately frozen in a tank of liquid nitrogen.
What is the lifespan of frozen eggs?
Eggs that are vitrified should last indefinitely, so long as they are kept at the correct temperature. Owing to ‘flash freezing’, frozen eggs can last for many years in storage, with quality remaining as good as the day they were retrieved. Clinics will ask you to confirm the period of time you would like your frozen eggs kept and you will need to sign an agreement and pay for the term you have chosen. You can request that they be stored for up to 10 years following recent changes to HFEA guidelines.
What happens when I want to use my Eggs?
When a woman wishes to use her preserved eggs, they are thawed and those that are the best quality are injected with sperm by an embryologist. The embryologist tracks the progress of fertilisation and confirms how many viable embryos are achieved. The best quality embryo is then transferred to the woman’s womb. It may be necessary to take special medications prior to embryo transfer to fully nourish the womb lining.