image of person giving themselves a shot in the bellyShare on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Choosing to delay pregnancy by freezing your eggs is more common than it once was. Whether it’s because of a desire to pursue a career, find a partner, or handle health concerns, choosing to freeze your eggs gives you the opportunity to manage other aspects of life until you’re ready to conceive.

While egg freezing is no longer a foreign concept, not everyone is aware of the full process that’s involved. Understanding what to expect, associated costs, and how egg freezing can preserve fertility are all critical components to making an informed decision.

Egg freezing is known as oocyte cryopreservation and it’s one form of assisted reproductive technology (ART).

During the procedure, medications are used to stimulate eggs to grow. Those eggs are then harvested from the ovaries and frozen for storage. At a later date, the eggs can be thawed and combined with sperm to create an embryo. The embryo can then be implanted into the uterus during an embryo transfer cycle.

While some people may opt to freeze their eggs for use at a later date, egg freezing is also associated with egg donation — when a donor gives eggs for someone else to use during fertility treatments.

Regardless of the reason for freezing eggs, the overall goal is the same: storing eggs allows you to preserve fertility by harvesting eggs at a younger age, which can be used at a later date. Although this won’t guarantee a pregnancy, it can improve the chances of successfully conceiving later in life.

While timelines might vary slightly, you can expect the entire egg freezing process to take between 2 to 3 weeks to complete. Most cycles can be done in less than 2 weeks.

Stimulating the ovaries to produce eggs is timed with your menstrual cycle to ensure optimal results. During this process, the ovaries are monitored carefully using ultrasounds and blood work to check hormone levels.

Medical exam

First, you’ll need to meet with a fertility doctor to discuss your desire to freeze your eggs. Your doctor will schedule an exam where a complete medical history, blood work, and hormone testing will be completed.

Additionally, you can expect to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound to perform an antral follicle count (AFC), which is a way to assess your ovarian reserve, or the number of eggs remaining in your ovaries.

During this time, your fertility doctor will outline the recommended stimulation protocol to ensure that the maximum number of eggs can be safely retrieved without putting you at risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

OHSS is a reaction that can occur in response to the hormonal injections a woman takes during ovarian stimulation.

Your doctor will also provide an estimate of how many eggs they expect to retrieve, as well as outline how to take the necessary medications required to stimulate your ovaries and prepare for egg retrieval.

Ovarian stimulation and monitoring

Depending on your physician’s recommendations and where you are in your current menstrual cycle, you might start this process by taking birth control pills or other medications such as estrogen, lupron, or Aygestin to help synchronize your follicles so that they respond similarly to the stimulation medications that you’ll take later.

If birth control or other synchronizing medications are recommended, you’ll usually begin taking them either during your period or immediately after ovulation has occurred.

You’ll continue to be monitored either with blood tests or ultrasounds to ensure that you begin stimulation injections at the right time. Once you’re cleared to begin injections, your physician or treatment coordinator will provide detailed instructions for self-administering the injections.

While medication regimens and treatment protocols can vary, most people will take gonadotropins — follicle-stimulation hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone(LH) — which stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs during a cycle.

These injections will be administered over about 10 to 12 consecutive days and taken subcutaneously in the belly. During those days, you will be monitored regularly, and your doctor may adjust the dose and combination of your medications, depending on how your body responds to the injections.

By day 5 or 7, your ovaries may begin to get enlarged so don’t be surprised if your doctor advises against more strenuous activities like running or high impact workouts during this time.

During the stimulation phase, you will usually have 3 to 5 monitoring visits to assess the progress of your follicles. Once the follicles reach a good size, you’ll receive a trigger shot, which is an injectable medication — usually either human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), lupron, or a combination of the two.

Egg retrieval

Also known as egg harvesting, egg retrieval is the process of removing eggs from your ovaries. During this process, you’ll arrive at your doctor’s office or clinic and an IV will be administered. This will allow them to provide general anesthesia for the procedure since you’ll be asleep during the process.

During the egg retrieval, your doctor will use a transvaginal ultrasound probe with a needle, which is inserted into your follicles under ultrasound guidance. The fluid inside the follicles that contains the eggs is aspirated and collected into tubes, which are then given to an embryologist.

The embryologist will examine the follicular fluid and identify the eggs. The entire process takes roughly 10 to 20 minutes to complete. Once you wake up, your doctor will tell you how many eggs were retrieved.

The number of eggs retrieved depends on several variables with age and ovarian reserve being the two most important factors. In general, people who are 40 and older have fewer eggs retrieved compared to people who are younger or under the age of 35.

Recovery and egg freezing

It’s not uncommon to experience cramping, bloating, constipation, and vaginal spotting during the first 24 hours after egg retrieval. Most patients can ease discomfort with over-the-counter pain relievers or heating pads.

If you experience more severe abdominal pain, feel faint or lightheaded, or have heavy vaginal bleeding, contact your doctor immediately.

Finally, within a few hours of egg retrieval, the mature eggs that were successfully collected will be frozen through a process known as vitrification. This process relies on rapid freezing through the use of liquid nitrogen to minimize the risk of ice crystals forming on the eggs, aiming to improve survival rates.

There are many reasons to consider egg freezing, but the most common reasons are to delay conception, preserve fertility, or donate eggs.

Delaying conception in pursuit of a career or for other reasons is a popular option — especially for people in their 20s or early 30s. Freezing eggs when you’re younger will improve your success rate if you choose to, or need to, use your eggs in the future.

Meanwhile, patients experiencing severe health complications that might impact fertility — such as undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer, having polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or endometriosis — may be encouraged to freeze eggs before undergoing treatments to preserve fertility.

Furthermore, people born with ovaries who are considering a gender transition and who may start treatment like hormone therapy or surgery may consider freezing eggs to preserve their fertility for the future.

While most patients will simply experience discomfort during the injection period and immediately following egg retrieval, the process isn’t without risks. Rarely, a patient may experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS.

OHSS can result when the medications used to stimulate the ovaries to make eggs also cause very high hormone levels, which can cause ovarian enlargement, fluid leaking into the abdomen, and causing electrolyte abnormalities.

According to research, people younger than age 35 are more likely to experience this side effect. Likewise, people with underlying conditions such as PCOS, or a low body mass index (BMI) may be more susceptible to OHSS.

Also, remember that just like hormone changes during a regular menstrual cycle can affect your mood, so can stimulation medications. Egg freezing can be associated with stress, which can be exacerbated by the hormone medications.

Other side effects associated with hormone injection and ovarian stimulation include skin irritation at the medication injection sites and ovarian torsion, which is a rare condition when the ovary twists on itself and compromises its blood supply. This can be quite painful.

The cost of egg freezing can vary widely depending on the clinic and where you’re located. Keep in mind that most insurance plans don’t cover this process unless your fertility is in jeopardy because of a health condition such as cancer.

The process of egg freezing is priced by cycles, which typically includes the stimulation (taking medications and monitoring the growth of the eggs) through the egg retrieval procedure and freezing of the eggs.

An egg freezing cycle can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per cycle. The total cycle cost can increase once you factor in the cost of the medications, which can range from $2,000 to $7,000 depending on the dose and combination of medications prescribed.

Meanwhile, you also need to consider the cost of storing your eggs. Depending on the clinic, this can represent a fixed annual cost of anywhere from $500 to $1,000.

If you’re thinking of egg freezing, look for clinics that offer payment plans. Or, consider switching to an insurance provider that does cover egg freezing.

There are fertility grant programs such as the Baby Quest Foundation, the Cade Foundation, and the Hope for Fertility Foundation.

Patients considering egg freezing as a preventative option ahead of a health condition that poses a risk to fertility should look at specific grant programs targeted for this need. Great options include Livestrong Fertility, the Heart Beat Program, and Fertility Within Reach.

On the day of your egg retrieval procedure, consider having your partner or a trusted friend or relative come with you. Wear comfortable clothes and plan to relax immediately after the procedure. It’s very common to need a few days to recover from the discomfort associated with retrieval.

It’s also helpful to set your expectations. Be prepared that — at least for the duration of your egg-freezing process — life is going to be a little different.

Pay attention to your diet and minimize your caffeine and alcohol intake. Meanwhile, follow your doctor’s instructions — especially when they encourage you to avoid more strenuous activities such as high impact exercise or even sex.

Because of the hormones you’re taking, feeling a bit more stressed, or having mood swings is normal. Be kind to yourself and take time to relax.

Is the egg freezing process painful?

Keep in mind that you’ll be under anesthesia during the procedure. However, it’s common to feel some cramping, soreness, or aches immediately following the procedure.

What is the best age to freeze your eggs?

For most women, age 30 represents the peak of fertility. While eggs can continue to be retrieved and frozen beyond then, most fertility specialists are less likely to encourage egg freezing for women in their 40s.

Are there potential complications/risks for a fetus that comes from a frozen egg?

Assuming that there are no underlying conditions present, there are no known risks for fetuses that develop from frozen eggs. However, once you place eggs and sperm together to create an embryo, you can opt to do preimplantation genetic testing, or PGT, on your embryos to screen for potential chromosomal problems.

What are the chances of conceiving a child using frozen eggs?

This depends on a variety of factors including the age of the recipient, as well as the quantity and quality of the eggs that were used.

One study found that under age 35, if you freeze 20 eggs, there’s a 94.4% chance of having at least 1 live birth. The live birth rate drops to 5.9% for people who freeze only 5 eggs at an older age.

Egg freezing is a proven solution for individuals who wish to preserve fertility — whether because of health concerns, the choice to delay becoming a parent, or a gender transition. Though it may not be a financially viable option for everyone, there are programs that can help mitigate the cost.

While the process involves a couple of weeks of treatment, the opportunity to preserve fertility can have several benefits that make it worth it.