Egg Freezing: What comes first, the chick or the egg?

With egg freezing, you can choose both! With more and more women opting to delay their family planning owing to late marriages, career growth and other factors, their biological clock ultimately catches up to them. Egg freezing can be a potential solution for such a case.

What's Inside?

What is egg freezing?

Egg freezing, or mature oocyte cryopreservation, is a method of harvesting unfertilized eggs from the ovaries and stored for later use. It provides an option for women who do not wish to get pregnant immediately but at some point in future, and want to preserve their ability to get pregnant.

Why is egg freezing done?

We all know that as women age, the quality of their eggs decreases. Egg freezing provides an option for women who do not wish to or are unable, due to medical reasons, to get pregnant now, but want the option to have kids at a later date. Egg freezing might be considered in the following circumstances:

  • Future pregnancy: For women who might want to think about getting pregnant at a later stage, egg freezing could help them preserve better quality eggs for a pregnancy at a later stage.
  • Cancer treatment: Certain cancer treatments that include radiation and chemotherapy can permanently harm fertility. Women in such cases can freeze their eggs before the treatment to conceive at a later stage in life.
  • Certain conditions: Some conditions like sickle cell anemia or autoimmune diseases such as lupus adversely impact fertility. In such cases, women can try egg freezing to help in conception later.

How is egg freezing done?

Before egg freezing is carried out, there will be preliminary tests to check for a woman’s ovarian reserve and any infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B or C.

  • Synthetic hormones are prescribed to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs in a cycle. The eggs are ready to retrieve usually after 10 to 14 days. 
  • Next step is egg retrieval, which is carried out under sedation. The doctor takes a look at the ovaries by using a vaginal ultrasound probe and guides a needle through the vagina into the follicle to retrieve the egg. They repeat this procedure until they have received a sufficient number of eggs.
  • After retrieval, the eggs are frozen to sub zero temperatures and preserved for future use. 

How many eggs should I freeze to guarantee a baby in future?

There is no magic number of eggs that should be frozen for a guaranteed pregnancy in future. Various factors come into play such as the egg quality, which decreases with age, and implantation issues. However, it is recommended that to maximise the chances of getting pregnant, at least 15-20 eggs should be freezed for women aged less than 35 years and at least 25-30 eggs for women aged between 35 to 40 years.

Is egg freezing painful?

While you will be sedated during the process, there could be some discomfort during the process.

  • Sometimes the fertility medication used to induce ovulation can lead to bloating and cramping, as it leads the ovaries to working overtime. Rarely, it could lead to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) causing ovaries to become painful and swollen.
  • Since you would be under anesthesia during the egg retrieval process, you won’t feel any pain. You might feel soreness in your vaginal area and abdominal cramping after you wake up.

What happens when I decide to get pregnant?

When you decide to get pregnant, the frozen eggs are thawed and then fertilized with a sperm in the lab to be implanted into the uterus. The fertilization can happen through:

  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): The doctor can retrieve the sperm samples from the partner and then put the eggs and sperms in a petri-dish to fertilize on their own. The resulting embryo is then transferred into your or the surrogate’s uterus.
  • Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): ICSI is a specialised version of IVF treatment, in which one sperm is directly injected into the egg to maximize the chances of fertilization. It is used in cases of severe male infertility. The resulting embryo is then transferred into your or the surrogate’s uterus.

Advantages of egg freezing

  • Egg freezing can help you provide a backup option, and relieve you of anxiety pertaining to fertility decline in case you are not ready to get pregnant yet.
  • For single women, it provides a relief of not rushing to settle down and can give them time to find that perfect partner.
  • Egg freezing can protect your eggs from medical treatments like chemotherapy for cancer or endometriosis treatment which can harm the quality of your eggs.

Risks of egg freezing

  • While egg freezing helps you relieve the anxiety of having the option to preserve your fertility for future, it does not mean it will guarantee fertility forever. With age, the ability of your body to carry out a successful pregnancy also decreases. Also, all eggs will not have the ability to survive the thawing process and get fertilized.
  • Usually 20s and early 30s is considered to be the optimal time to freeze eggs, when the ovarian reserve is normal. Post that the quality and quantity of eggs decrease and even egg freezing might not help with fertility preservation.
  • The hormonal treatments given to harvest multiple eggs at a time can affect your ovaries and have side effects, such as abdominal pain and bloating, which are symptoms for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
  • It can be an expensive procedure, considering the initial cost of retrieving and the consecutive yearly costs of preserving the eggs.