Many considered this new health benefit to be bold and progressive. It gives women more power over how and when they choose to start a family. But some argue that it benefits the companies more than the women.
Wherever you stand on the issue, higher numbers of women today are choosing to freeze their eggs. While it’s an emotional and expensive experience, freezing their eggs offers women security in knowing they can have children later in life.
There’s a lot to know about freezing your eggs. To help you wade through the research, we’ve put together a helpful guide that digs into the process.
How Does It Work?
Freezing eggs, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a long and multilayered process. In some ways, it’s similar to in vitro fertilization.
First, women have to self-administer hormone injections and birth control pills for two to four weeks. This helps turn off natural hormones temporarily (this step can also be skipped for urgency purposes). Then there’s another round of hormone injections, usually lasting two weeks, to stimulate egg production. This is closely monitored by checking blood levels and having frequent vaginal ultrasounds.
Once eggs have matured, women undergo a brief outpatient procedure under light anesthesia in order to harvest the eggs. The eggs are then frozen in either a flash-freezing process, known as vitrification, or through a slow-freeze method.
When a woman is ready to get pregnant, doctors thaw the eggs and inject each with a single sperm for fertilization. The fertilized eggs, or embryos, are allowed to grow in the lab for about five days. They then can transfer the embryos into the patient’s uterus.
When Should You Freeze Your Eggs?
As women age, their egg cell count drops. At birth, our ovaries carry 1 to 2 million immature eggs. But that number drops to about 400,000 at puberty and our first menstruation, according to Columbia University researchers.
By the time women hit menopause, usually between ages 48 and 55, little to no egg cells remain. The chance that the remaining egg cells will mature and become viable is slim to none.
Freezing your eggs becomes tougher as you get older, so women should freeze their eggs as young as possible — preferably before your 40s, most fertility experts say. The possibility that one frozen egg will result in pregnancy in the future is around 2 to 12 percent for women younger than 38 years old, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
The Numbers Game
Women need to harvest a lot of egg cells (10 to 20 eggs) in order to become pregnant with one baby. By age 40, the number of eggs cells you need to freeze per desired pregnancy increases to around 30 or more.
Much like viability rates, embryo implantation rates also decline with age. A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that women who froze their eggs after age 40 had a less than 9 percent chance of implantation. For women under 40, the probability of implantation is between 9 and 13 percent.
Live birth rates vary dramatically from clinic to clinic, though. While some centers can freeze eggs very well and have a highly successful program, many other clinics do not. But you shouldn’t only look at success rates when choosing a qualified clinic, as statistics don’t indicate if a center will suit your personal needs. You should also research a prospective doctor’s education, training, and state medical licenses, as well as if the center treats difficult cases or not.
How Much Does It Cost?
The average cost of freezing your eggs is around $6,600, with the maximum cost climbing up to $12,500, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. This cost does not include two weeks of fertility drugs needed to stimulate egg production, which can run between $3,000 and $5,000.
Women looking to undergo additional cycles will often pay more than the average maximum costs to harvest eggs from their ovaries.
Women looking to freeze eggs before undergoing chemotherapy can expect to pay nearly $7,800, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
Most insurance carriers do not cover the cost of freezing your eggs. But some insurance plans might partially or completely cover the procedure for medical reasons. This includes patients about to undergo certain cancer treatments or patients at risk for menopause before age 40.
Planning a family is emotional work. Knowing all of your reproductive options will help you make an informed decision about whether or not to freeze your eggs or to try conceiving naturally. But whatever you decide, make sure it is the best choice for you and your family.