Egg Freezing – all you need to know
If you’re thinking of freezing your eggs, read on for Zita’s advice…
How does the egg freezing process work?
The egg freezing procedure works in a very similar way to IVF but without having the embryo to put back.
There is an initial consultation where a woman will have her egg reserves assessed by blood tests looking at AMH, which is the Anti Mullerian Hormone, and also an ultrasound scan, which is called an antral follicle count, which counts the number of follicles on the ovaries. This gives the doctors an idea of how a woman is likely to respond to treatment and to decide on the protocols and drugs to use as well as a rough indication of how it will go.
The procedure involves a woman stimulating egg production as she would ahead of IVF, giving herself injections every day for around 10 days on the protocol or treatment that's been decided, which will stimulate the follicles on the ovaries to grow. During this time, she will have blood tests and scans to assess how stimulation is going as well as looking at factors such as if there's over stimulation. She will then be given what is called a trigger injection to release the eggs and will then undergo a procedure in theatre under anaesthetic where the eggs will be collected and assessed for their maturity which is called grading, and then they are frozen. It's quite an intense procedure and many women underestimate what is involved – the only difference with this and IVF is that the eggs are then fertilised at this point and made into embryos when you’re undergoing IVF.
Once you decide you want to use them, the process would then be the same as IVF where the egg is then fertilised with your partner’s or a donor’s sperm.
How long does it take to recover from the procedure?
You wouldn't go back to work that day so you may have a day or so off, but it depends on how many eggs have been produced and collected. If you've had a lot, then you're going to be quite sore abdominally and you need to rest. You do need to bear in mind as well that although this is a routine procedure, any procedure comes with a risk, so it's important that you're counselled on everything, which will happen at that initial consultation.
Do you just have to do this once to secure a chance of future pregnancy? The amount of eggs frozen depends on the quality of the eggs collected as well as the maturity, as they won't all be of equal maturity or quality. You do need a good crop of eggs to be able to freeze for future use, so on average between 16 and 20 increases your chances of success. If a woman’s eggs reserves are low, then you're not going to be able to get a good amount of eggs to freeze, so for many women it's more than one procedure; they might come back for two, three or four rounds so that they've got a bigger batch to freeze, and more of a chance of success in the future.
Is there an ideal age when you should freeze your eggs?
Ideally you would do this under 35 but, many women do it later and this is very much dependent on their egg reserves and quality as some women are more fortunate than others. When it comes to having a higher egg reserve, the higher the number, the better the outcome. A lot of this is about managing a woman's expectations because while women look and feel great for their age today, that's not reflected in the ovaries. Many women who are older do require more than one session, which on average is about £5000 pounds to do this procedure. So you can imagine, if you're doing two or three rounds it is becoming increasingly more expensive.
Is there anything you can do to increase the amount or quality of eggs collected?
A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, and these are genetically determined, however the environment in which those eggs are growing and maturing is affected by factors including lifestyle and nutrition, and the right kind of supplemental support may help improve the chances of a successful outcome.
The Ultimate Egg Health Pack contains everything we would recommend to support egg health, and ideally should be taken for at least three months prior to collection.
Once your eggs are frozen, how long do they last?
The standard legal storage period is up to 10 years but in some cases (such as associated with cancer treatments), they can be stored for much longer. Like embryos, once thawed and providing they survive the process, there should be very similar outcomes to as though they were fresh as they don’t deteriorate whilst frozen.
Would you recommend egg freezing for someone who is considering it?
In my opinion, I think egg freezing is a good solution. I think it offers women options, which they haven't had before, and for many women it is about looking back and having no regrets.
For so many women, they may be ambivalent about having a baby, not met the right person or be at the right stage in their lives, then they wake up at 40 and decide that they do want a baby so this does offer them hope. The biggest factor I try to get across to women is delays in fertility, as on average, it can take eight months to get pregnant and miscarriage is quite common. So then a year has gone by without a pregnancy and you pick yourself up you have to start again – it’s all about looking ahead and being strategic about your fertility.
For Zita West recommended products if you are undergoing egg freezing - see here
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