Celebrity women like Elle Mcpherson and Sofia Vergara are not the only ones who have decided to take advantage of developments in science and freeze their eggs. Whether their motivation is waiting for the right man or choosing to focus on a career, or both, research has proven that the number of women freezing eggs has risen by 400% in the last year alone.
Sofia Vergara, 42, has explained her motivation, telling Good Morning America: ‘I just wanted to plan ahead. Nothing happens that naturally anymore.’
She’s obviously not alone in being prepared – almost half the number of women who seek egg freezing treatment are now between 25 and 34. We have done our research so that if you are wondering how to freeze your eggs then you can find the answers to all your questions here…
What Is Egg Freezing?
After an initial consultation, an embryologist will measure the level of Inhibin B, a fertility hormone produced by the ovaries. The more a woman has of this, the more eggs she has left. IVF drugs are then given for ten days to stimulate the ovaries to produce follicles, which contain the eggs. The next step is a short operation under sedative, where a dose of hormone is injected via a fine needle into the vagina in order to release the eggs. The eggs are then stored in liquid nitrogen to preserve them.
How Advanced Is Egg Freezing Treatment Now?
James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist and Specialist in Reproductive Medicine at The Lister Fertility Clinic, says that the introduction of Vitrification, pioneered by Japanese medical group Kitazato, has had a huge impact: ‘This allows us to rapidly freeze eggs and avoid damaging ice crystals that used to form on the eggs with the previous method. We won’t see the figures coming through for another ten years or so but I believe with time success rates will markedly increase.’
How Likely Is It That Egg Freezing Will Work?
The first pregnancy from frozen eggs was in 1986 and since then there have been about 5000 births worldwide from the treatment. When the last official figures were released in 2013, only twenty of these babies were born in the UK. So, relatively, success rates are not huge. Dr Nicopoullos explains why this may be: ‘Success is hard to quantify because before the recent introduction of vitrification, there was so little of it. Also, some people may have not come through their cancer treatment or gone on to find Mr Right and not use the eggs.’
Venessa Smith of The London Women’s Clinic thinks the numbers will rise more steeply now: ‘More and more women are choosing to freeze their eggs for social and not medical reasons. By definition this will lead to an increase in women who are past their most fertile years, having pregnancies in the future with the eggs they stored when they were younger.’
Does Freezing Eggs Prevent Any Risks ?
Smith says extensive research is not available because egg freezing is relatively new but that ‘there has not been any reported increase in birth defects in those children born as a result of conception from a frozen egg.’
The biggest risk associated with fertility treatment is having multiple births, which can be dangerous as it threatens an increased risk of premature birth and low weight.
A more common side effect is drug reaction such as hot flushes, feeling irritable, headaches and restlessness. In more extreme circumstances women may experience ectopic pregnancies, when an embryo implants outside the uterus. There is also a low risk of birth defects.
How Much Does Freezing Eggs Cost?
Prices will vary between clinics but patients are charged on average £4,000 – £5,000 for the stimulation, scans, egg collection, the freezing process and drugs. On top of this it costs around £300 a year for storage and £2000 for them to be re-implanted.
Some women choose to go abroad for cheaper treatment in places such as the Czech Republic but Dr Nicopoullos warns against this: “It is cheaper because it is unregulated so I would advise against that.” On the other hand Spain does have an excellent reputation for IVF treatment, which can be competitively priced compared to the UK.
How Long Can Frozen Eggs Be Stored For?
If you are doing it for social reasons egg storage cannot exceed ten years. However patients who are freezing their eggs for medical reasons, such as prior to chemotheraphy, may store them for up to fifty-five years.
What Happens When The Frozen Eggs Are Needed?
The eggs are warmed up again at a controlled rate, allowing them to thaw slowly. Once this has happened they are injected with sperm and inserted into the woman’s uterus. If the process is successful she will then be pregnant as normal.
Dr Nicopoullous has one final piece of advice: ‘Having looked at all the statistics, my main piece of advice would be that the younger you freeze them, the better chance you have of the process being successful so if it is something you are seriously considering, don’t leave it too late.’