Freezing your eggs: is it right for you?

Medically reviewed on March 8, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


In today’s world, people who consider having children have many options. Egg freezing, in particular, is an increasingly popular procedure for individuals across the fertility spectrum who want to take a more active role in their reproductive life.

Whether you’re contemplating starting a family in the next few years or are being proactive if you want children later in life, freezing your eggs can feel like a major decision.

In this guide, we’ll take you through the ins and outs of this procedure and cover other factors to consider before you decide whether freezing your eggs is right for you (to learn key information related to your egg count, or ovarian reserve, consider the Everlywell at-home Ovarian Reserve Test).

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How freezing the eggs works

Cryopreservation is the process of freezing and storing biological material for future use. In the medical world, 3 main types of cryopreservation are used to promote female fertility:

  • Freezing ovarian tissues
  • Freezing embryos
  • Freezing eggs [1]

The technical term for freezing the eggs is called “oocyte cryopreservation.” It’s a method of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that enables people assigned female at birth to get pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

In the procedure, oocytes (premature forms of the human egg) are retrieved from the ovaries, preserved, and stored in a freezer. They’re then fertilized and implanted in the uterus at a later date. This can make a key impact on fertility preservation by using the frozen eggs later for a chance at pregnancy.

What is required to freeze the eggs?

Deciding to freeze the eggs is a major decision that can impact your present and future reproductive health. As such, it’s vital to have some tests taken to confirm that you’re a suitable candidate for the procedure.

Ovarian reserve testing (ORT) is one of the most common tests needed before freezing your eggs. ORT may tell you:

  • An assessment of how many eggs there may be in the ovaries
  • The body’s potential response to IVF
  • How close someone is to menopause

ORT will help you and your healthcare provider come to an understanding on whether freezing your eggs can support your fertility and plans for the future.

What is the procedure for freezing the eggs?

Oocyte cryopreservation operates in three main phases: preparation, oocyte retrieval, and freezing. Let’s explore each below.

Phase 1: Preparation

The main purpose of this preparatory period is to encourage the ovaries to foster multiple eggs through a clinical process known as “ovarian stimulation.”

This requires fertility medications, which a healthcare provider will prescribe depending on the unique hormonal makeup of the body. These medications most commonly impact:

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

FSH, LH, and hCG are the hormones responsible for maturing multiple eggs within the ovaries simultaneously. A healthcare provider may also prescribe injections that ensure ovulation does not occur before the egg retrieval procedure.

This preparatory stage usually takes approximately 2 weeks, with daily injections administered at home. If needles make you dizzy, there’s no shame in recruiting the help of a partner or relative for some support.

Phase 2: Retrieval

Next is the retrieval process. While you’re under sedation, a healthcare provider will find the viable egg follicles through ultrasound by inserting an ultrasound wand into the vaginal canal. This wand then uses suction to retrieve the eggs.

Timing is critical during the retrieval stage of freezing the eggs:

  • The procedure needs to happen soon after the final injection, but before ovulation.
  • A healthcare provider needs to store the eggs in a fluid and freeze them as soon as the procedure is over.

Most retrieval procedures are relatively painless. Afterward, there may be some mild symptoms like cramping or lower abdominal pressure due to the swelling in the ovaries.

Phase 3: Freezing

One of the most effective methods to preserve eggs is known as “vitrification.” In this stage of the egg freezing process, the eggs are stored in a liquid solution that’s then solidified at a relatively low temperature. This helps prevent the formation of ice crystals, which can damage the eggs.

When you’re ready to have an egg implanted, the liquid solution is rapidly thawed to minimize interference with the life suspended inside it.

Vitrification is a relatively new technique used in cryopreservation, but research shows that it has vastly improved the survival rates of eggs and embryos, pregnancy outcomes, and the success rates of live births achieved through IVF [1].

Reasons to freeze your eggs

Every individual who freezes their eggs chooses to do so for unique reasons, from minimizing risks of infertility later down the line to protecting against a family history of fertility challenges.

These are some of the main reasons why individuals elect to freeze their eggs:

  • Difficulty conceiving – The most common reason people choose to freeze their eggs is due to problems getting pregnant on their own, whether due to ovarian dysfunction, a diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), or other gynecological issues. Most oocytes or embryos are frozen because a person plans to undergo IVF to start a family.
  • Reproductive illness – Another major motivation for egg freezing is when a person has a history of illness or becomes aware of a family medical history that could affect their capacity to procreate. PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a leading example—it’s one of the main causes of female infertility, and it affects approximately 10% of reproductive-aged women in the U.S. [2]

Finally, some people choose to freeze their eggs because they plan on having a family in the future, but they don’t feel prepared to parent just yet. Some common inhibiting factors include [3]:

  • A lack of adequate finances to support a child
  • Not having a partner to parent with
  • A focus on career-related responsibilities

What to consider before freezing your eggs

Even if freezing your eggs is just one step in a more comprehensive fertility treatment, there’s still a good deal to consider before you undergo the procedure.

Below, we’ve identified some of the most pressing FAQs asked by people considering egg freezing.

What is the best age to freeze your eggs?

Understanding how age affects your egg quality and quantity and overall fertility can help you understand when to freeze the eggs:

The 20s – Female fertility is at its peak between the late teens and 20s, with more eggs available and a lower probability of chromosomal abnormalities.

The 30s – Fertility begins to decline at age 32. Individuals age 35 and older are clinically considered at advanced maternal age (AMA).

The 40s – From 35 to menopause, the chances of getting pregnant without assistance is both low and risky for you and your child. If you’re over 44, around 90% of the eggs may have chromosomal abnormalities [4].

In short, both the quantity and quality of eggs (the ovarian reserve) deteriorates over time. Freezing eggs earlier in life can help to ensure you’re freezing the healthiest, highest-quality eggs available [5].

How long does freezing the eggs last?

While most people store their frozen eggs for around 5–10 years, egg freezing is a relatively new applied science. This means the medical field is still developing a body of thorough, peer-reviewed research on how the process works.

Current research shows no harmful effects of long-term storage (over 10 years). However, other factors may play a significant role in the outcomes of oocyte preservation and IVF, such as [1]:

  • The age of the person receiving treatment
  • The kind of fertility issues they’re facing
  • The hormones used in ovarian stimulation

Are there any health risks to freezing your eggs?

Overall, oocyte cryopreservation is a relatively safe procedure. However, like other assisted reproductive technologies, there are some risks to consider:

  • Maternal risks – As we’ve mentioned, the older you are, the more difficult and dangerous it is to undergo pregnancy, even through IVF. Forty-year-olds who undergo IVF have a 29% rate of miscarriage, while those over 44 will experience a pregnancy loss 50% of the time [6].
  • Oocyte risks – While vitrification has vastly improved the process of egg freezing, it’s still a relatively new reproductive technology, with the first successful live birth documented in 1986 [3]. This means it comes with some risk. That said, there have been thousands of healthy babies born from cryopreservation with no reported abnormalities [1].

Additionally, understanding when to see a fertility specialist can also be beneficial to finding the right treatment.

Understanding fertility with Everlywell

Two of our at-home tests may help you better understand aspects of your fertility and reproductive health:

  • The Ovarian Reserve Test measures FSH levels to provide insight into ovarian reserve.
  • The Women’s Fertility Test measures levels of 5 key fertility hormones like estradiol, FSH, and LH to help you learn if your hormones are balanced to support normal ovarian function needed for pregnancy.

What ovarian reserve testing can tell you about fertility

How many eggs does a woman have?

Can ovarian cysts cause infertility?


References

1. Chian RC, Wang Y, Li YR. Oocyte vitrification: advances, progress and future goals. J Assist Reprod Genet. 2014;31(4):411-420.

2. Ovarian Cyst. StatPearls [Internet]. URL. Accessed March 8, 2022.

3. Simopoulou, Mara et al. “Postponing Pregnancy Through Oocyte Cryopreservation for Social Reasons: Considerations Regarding Clinical Practice and the Socio-Psychological and Bioethical Issues Involved.” Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania) vol. 54,5 76. 25 Oct. 2018.

4. Cimadomo D, Fabozzi G, Vaiarelli A, Ubaldi N, Ubaldi FM, Rienzi L. Impact of Maternal Age on Oocyte and Embryo Competence. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018;9:327. Published 2018 Jun 29.

5. Ulrich ND, Marsh EE. Ovarian Reserve Testing: A Review of the Options, Their Applications, and Their Limitations. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2019;62(2):228-237.

6. Goold I. Trust women to choose: a response to John a Robertson's 'Egg freezing and Egg banking: empowerment and alienation in assisted reproduction'. J Law Biosci. 2017;4(3):507-541. Published 2017 Aug 10.

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