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Family planning: Should I freeze my eggs?

Director of the Stanford Center for Health Research on Women and Sex Differences in Medicine.

Thinking about freezing your eggs? Here are some things you should consider before doing it.

thinking woman

"Should I freeze my eggs?" In my office, I hear that question a lot from women who are eager to responsibly plan both their careers and their families.

Research shows that these days, many women are opting to delay pregnancy for career, education and other personal reasons — making the average age at which women first give birth higher than it's ever been. In the U.S., the average age is around 25, but in countries like the U.K. and Germany, it's shot up to 30 — a substantial increase over previous generations.

I absolutely applaud any woman who places a high value on her career — what a wonderful example to pass down to her children one day! But let me go ahead and address the issue of egg freezing since it's coming up so often.

Tests you may want to consider

There are several tests that can help estimate a woman's ovarian reserve, meaning how many eggs are left in her ovaries. Most commonly, blood tests are done on day 3 of the menstrual cycle to look at FSH and estradiol levels. Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) level is another blood test that is commonly done. In addition, an ultrasound can help determine a woman's antral follicle count (AFC), meaning the number of resting follicles in her ovaries. These tests can give an estimate of your fertility potential and how well you may respond to fertility medications.

The process of freezing your eggs: What's it like?

So let's say that you and your partner take your tests, and you decide, "Yes, I want to freeze my eggs." What's the process like?

First, you'll go through the same hormone-injection process as occurs in IVF (in vitro fertilization). It involves two weeks of self-administered hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries and produce multiple eggs.

When the ovaries are ready, the eggs are removed with a needle placed through the top of the vagina under ultrasound guidance — and don't worry, you'll be sedated. The eggs are then immediately frozen and will remain viable for many years. When you're ready to get pregnant, the egg is fertilized by sperm and transferred to your uterus as an embryo.

Egg freezing is generally not covered by health insurance, so talk to your doctor about the costs involved. You should expect to pay anywhere from $9,000-$13,000 for the procedure.

In general, I recommend egg freezing for any woman who is in her 30s and who is not sure when she may be ready to be pregnant.

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