What You Need to Know About Egg Freezing
What You Need to Know About Egg Freezing

What You Need to Know About Egg Freezing

Over the last five years, more people in the UK have undergone egg freezing than ever before. Although it’s an increasingly popular way to expand your reproductive options, like any fertility treatment, it comes with its challenges. Here’s what you need to know, the questions to ask and the considerations to bear in mind.
By Georgia Day

What does egg freezing involve?

Known formally as oocyte cryopreservation, egg freezing the process of preserving fertility for women and those assigned as female at birth. “A female is born with all the eggs she will ever have, and these eggs, unlike skin cells, don't regenerate. They age, just like us,” says fertility expert and Fertility Mapper founder Kayleigh Hartigan. “Freezing eggs protects them from the effects of further ageing.” To retrieve enough eggs for freezing, ovarian stimulation is necessary. This is done over a period of about 2-4 weeks via a series of hormonal injections of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone is produced by the brain, and tells the ovaries to grow and mature the resting eggs inside them at the start of every menstrual cycle. Ultrasounds and bloodwork are done during this period to measure growth and development, and the egg retrieval itself is a 20-minute surgical procedure that’s conducted under anaesthetic. Once the embryologist has collected the viable eggs they are quickly and safely frozen and can, by UK law, be stored for up to 55 years. Ideally, around 10-15 are collected each time as this increases the chances of a sufficient number of eggs surviving the freezing and thawing. The number of cycles a woman can have depends on her individual circumstances, but most women will need to have more than one cycle to collect the desired number of eggs.

Why do women decide to freeze their eggs?

Although choosing to freeze your eggs is a particularly personal endeavour, it’s an inevitable consequence of many women choosing to focus on their career, independence and friendships, as much as finding a partner. “There is a challenge with this shift,” says Kayleigh. “The older we get the harder it is to conceive naturally. This, together with an increased awareness of egg freezing, has caused more and more people to explore it as an option, to give themselves a greater chance of building a family later in life.”

Is there an optimal age bracket for egg freezing?

“While there isn't a strict age limit, optimal results are often achieved when a woman freezes her eggs before the age of 35, as egg quantity and quality decline with age,” explains Dr Anate Brauer, board certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist at RMA of New York. “The younger you are, the fewer eggs you need in the freezer to make a baby; the older you are, the more you need.” 

While age plays a large part in ensuring there are enough good-quality eggs to freeze, signs of poor-quality eggs, whatever your age, can include frequent miscarriages and irregular menstrual periods. If you suspect your egg quality may be a risk factor in egg freezing, speak to your GP or healthcare practitioner about strategies and adjustments that can improve things. Although it’s important to freeze your eggs before your fertility starts to decline at age 30, the age you choose to use your eggs is less crucial. “The age at which the eggs are thawed and used tends to have little effect on success. However, becoming pregnant in your late 30s and 40s may increase the risk of having certain complications during pregnancy,” adds Kayleigh.

Research shows that at age 30-34, 15-20 eggs gives you AN ALMOST 90% CHANCE of HAVING AT LEAST ONE BABY from those eggs, with a 60% chance of having the second.

What are the financial implications of egg freezing?

Egg freezing is an expensive undertaking and, for many women in the UK, it will be the first time a healthcare-related cost has to be considered. While many clinics will arrange egg freezing packages to consolidate costs, it’s worth knowing that actual figures will depend on your individual treatment plans, which may differ from someone else’s. “The average advertised cost of an ‘egg freezing package’ in the UK is £3,815,” says Kayleigh, but it’s worth nothing that that price is only the cost of the stimulation phase of treatment. “All in all, the average estimated cost of freezing your eggs is £6,497 – 70% more than the average advertised ‘egg freezing package price’ in part because of the yearly storage fee.” Further down the line, if you decide to come back and use your eggs you will need to undergo a further treatment called an egg thaw transfer cycle. That’s not generally included in any packages, and the cost is advertised at between £2,000 and £6,000. For a more transparent take on the figures you can expect to be charged, Fertility Mapper is a great resource.

How can you prepare yourself for egg freezing?

Although egg freezing can be a draining physical process, its impact on your mental health shouldn’t be underestimated. Ensuring you understand as much as possible of what you’re about to go through is key, as is weighing up all potential outcomes, even if that means considering that you may come away with few or no viable eggs. If necessary, seek support from professionals or others going through a similar experience. “The process is definitely taxing on your mental and physical health, so make sure your close circle is aware of what you’re going through so they can check in,” advises Anate.

Aside from how successful the journey is, egg freezing is an intensely personal process that can carry with it difficulties at every stage. “The medication can affect people differently,” adds Kayleigh. “Some people find that the extra hormones significantly impact their mood, while for others there is almost no noticeable change. Plan to slow down during the treatment process. You will likely feel very tired and should be extra kind and gentle with yourself and your commitments.” Physically, it’s vital that you maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise. “It’s good to start taking vitamin D and folic acid a minimum of three months before your retrieval to help support healthy egg production,’ says Kayleigh. “Overall health and wellness efforts such as drinking less alcohol, eating a healthy and balanced diet, reducing stress and regular exercise are also encouraged by doctors.”

What is the success rate of egg freezing?

“Age is the most predictive factor for success as quality of eggs is dictated by genetics of the eggs which is directly linked to age,” says Anate. “Research shows that at age 30-34, 15-20 eggs gives you an almost 90% chance of having at least one baby from those eggs, with a 60% chance of having the second and a 30% chance of having the third.”

How can you find a reputable clinic?

As a relatively new procedure in the UK with limited data available to see from individual clinics, it’s important to factor in a few things when choosing the right clinic for you and your budget. Clinic reviews are a great place to start and can be a good way of finding out about communication and overall experience, which you might not get from talking to the clinic itself. When looking at success rates, HFEA, the UK’s fertility regulator, is a reliable resource offering impartial and accurate data. And finally, location of the clinic may not be something that automatically comes to mind when choosing the right place for you, but it can be important. “Once you start treatment, you'll need regular scans and blood tests at the clinic you choose, so making sure that you opt for somewhere that is convenient for you to travel to is important,” adds Kayleigh.

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