Fertility on ice
What you should know about egg freezing
We often hear of the expression “ticking biological clock,” but what does this actually mean for a woman? Well, here are the facts and figures. As a woman, you were born with about one to two million immature eggs or follicles, and these begin to die off as soon as you leave your mother’s womb.
By the time you’ve reached puberty, you’ll only have about 400,000 follicles left, and with each menstrual cycle, you’ll lose thousands more. Due to the loss of follicles throughout your reproductive life, when you’ve reached your mid 30s, your fertility would have sharply declined. And in your late 40s, any follicles that remain are unlikely to mature due to the hormonal changes brought on by menopause.
Now that you understand a little more about eggs, let’s find out why some women choose to freeze theirs and what it entails.
What is it?
Just as the name suggests, in egg freezing, a woman’s unfertilised eggs are frozen through a process called vitrification. This is done so that the eggs can be stored for many years. When a woman is ready, the eggs can be thawed and fertilised with sperm. Once the egg has developed into a healthy embryo, it can be transferred to the woman’s uterus for a chance of pregnancy.
Some women choose to freeze their eggs because they are currently not in the position to become pregnant and they want to preserve their healthiest eggs. One of the leading reasons for egg freezing is serious illness. For example, a woman who is undergoing cancer therapy may worry about the impact of the treatment on her fertility. As such, she may have her healthy eggs removed and frozen for future use before she undergoes treatment.
Other women, on the other hand, may be concerned about age-related infertility. Though a woman may be at her most fertile between her 20s and early 30s, for some women, childbearing is unavoidably delayed due to education, career or personal goals. Through egg freezing, a woman can store her healthy eggs for use in the future, enabling her to start a family when she is ready. A woman’s age when her eggs are frozen also affects her chances of conceiving later in life. For example, if she opts to freeze her eggs during her late 30s, her chances of pregnancy are significantly lower.
Much like the early stages of IVF, the egg freezing cycle takes about 10-12 days. The woman will give herself daily shots of hormone injections, which stimulate her ovaries and ripen her eggs. When her eggs have matured, they are removed using a special needle that is inserted through her vagina. An ultrasound is used to help guide the needle and the woman is sedated, so she will not feel any pain. Once retrieved, the eggs are immediately flash frozen.
Is it safe?
In a word – yes! To date, more than 300,000 children have been born worldwide from frozen embryos and studies conducted in recent years have shown that the use of frozen eggs does not increase pregnancy complications or birth defects.
If you’d like to learn more about egg freezing and the costs involved, don’t hesitate to speak to a fertility specialist.