With each passing year, reproductive technology gets more and more advanced, giving us increasing options for determining if, how and when we get pregnant. Specifically, we have contraception for helping to control if and when we get pregnant and technologies like artificial insemination and IVF to assist in situations when a person or couple may be having difficulty getting pregnant, but what if someone isn't sure whether they might want to get pregnant in the future?
That's where egg freezing comes in. The basic premise is that some people with ovaries who may potentially want to get pregnant down the line could have the option of freezing and storing some of their eggs for future use. Sounds pretty simple, right? Although egg freezing is frequently touted as fertility insurance, it's a lot more complicated than that. On top of that, the technology is changing so rapidly techniques that were used even only five years ago have improved significantly.
There's also the fact that for the most part, egg freezing is a for-profit business, meaning that some of the information out there on the process may be more marketing than fact. If you or someone you know is considering freezing eggs, chances are you have a lot of questions. Fear not: We've spoken to some leading fertility doctors to get the scoop on this process and whether it's a good option for you.
Of course, determining whether or not to consider freezing your eggs has everything to do with where a person is in life and whether they ultimately want the option of bearing their own genetic children.
"If a woman plans to delay childbearing beyond the age of 35, I would recommend that she consider one of two types of fertility preservation options," Dr. Gerardo Bustillo, an OB-GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, Fountain Valley, California, tells SheKnows.
In situations where a woman doesn't have a participating male partner or would not consider using a sperm donor, Bustillo recommends she consider freezing her eggs — also called "oocyte cryopreservation." If there is a participating male partner or if the woman would consider using donor sperm, he says another option is creating embryos via IVF and then freezing them (known as "embryo cryopreservation") prior to the age of 35 to be used in later years. According to Bustillo, both methods are equally effective in achieving a live birth.
Dr. Jane Frederick, an internationally noted specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, says that if someone is looking to freeze their eggs, ideally they should do so by the age of 38.
"The prevalence of infertility increases significantly after age 35," Bustillo explains. "Women in the age range of 30 to 35 years who wish to delay childbearing are the best candidates for freezing their eggs. This is the age range with the highest probability of future live birth with the use of frozen eggs."
The most obvious benefit of egg freezing is the ability to "put a woman's biological clock on hold," as Bustillo puts it. This possibility means she is free to pursue other things like education, professional achievements or travel.
Another aspect is that dating and meeting a partner does not always coincide with your reproductive plans. In other words, you may know you want to have a baby down the line, but haven't met the right person yet.
"It also removes the male factor from the equation — the woman can freeze her eggs and wait until a future date to select a male partner or sperm donor to biologically father her child," Bustillo adds.
Egg freezing is also offered to cancer patients who will need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy, Frederick notes. "Preserving their fertility for after treatment can give them hopes of still having a family," she says.
Although retrieval, storage and thawing techniques are improving, one of the most important things to know if you're considering freezing your eggs is that it is not a guarantee they will result in successful pregnancies and births.
"Egg freezing presents women with the possibility of having a baby at a later time. Yes, that’s right — a possibility!" Frederick says.
Moreover, the techniques used in egg freezing are relatively recent unlike those used in embryo cryopreservation, which has been performed for over 30 years, Bustillo says. And although preliminary outcomes from using frozen eggs are encouraging, the number of live births so far is insufficient to be absolutely certain of all potential risks.
"To date, case series of pregnancies resulting from frozen eggs have not shown any increased risk of obstetrical problems, chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects, or intellectual or developmental deficits in the newborns," Bustillo explains.
According to Frederick, with success rates rising, in 10 years, egg freezing will be as common as the birth control pill and with decades of technological improvements. There has been a fast rise in live births from frozen eggs, and this is likely to continue.
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