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Should You Freeze Your Eggs? 6 Things to Know Before You Do

Should You Freeze Your Eggs? 6 Things to Know Before You Do

Celebs like Sofia Vergara are opening up about “banking” their eggs. Find out if the procedure is right for you.

Someday, Bachelorette fan favorite Kaitlyn Bristowe wants to have a baby—but only when she's ready. The 31-year-old recently opened up about freezing (aka "banking") her eggs, an assisted reproductive technology (ART), or fertility treatment, that gives her the option to become pregnant later in life. She’s not the only celebrity to undergo the procedure—actresses Olivia Munn and Sofia Vergara are just some of the other Hollywood stars that have also preserved their eggs.

Reproductively speaking, most women's fertility peaks before age 32; after that, the chances of getting pregnant gradually decline. That's part of why these women—along with an estimated 76,000 more annually by 2018—are choosing to preserve their own eggs or donor eggs during their peak reproductive years. Jessica Shepherd, MD, an OBGYN and associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is encouraged by the recent increase in awareness for egg freezing.

Wondering if the process is right for you? Or what to expect if you do decide to do it? We talked with Dr. Shepherd for the latest key takeaways.  

It’s better to start the process early
Shepherd says one of the most important things she’d like women to know is that early freezing is better than waiting: “Women in their early 30s who know they're going to push off child-bearing for another four or five years, should freeze their eggs then, instead of waiting until they are 38 or 39.”

If you have cancer and need to undergo chemotherapy, it’s better to freeze your eggs beforehand. “Treatments like chemo can damage the integrity of the eggs," says Shepherd.  

It's a multi-step process
About two weeks prior to the actual removal of your eggs, you’ll administer daily hormone injections to stimulate egg production. Once your eggs have matured in the ovaries, the actual retrieval process only takes about 15 minutes.

Later on, when you’ve thawed your eggs for use, the eggs will be combined with healthy sperm during the IVF process. Three to five days later, if embryos form, one or more will be placed in your uterus. About 10 days after that, a blood test can confirm a pregnancy.  

It’s going to cost big bucks
The total cost from start to finish—the egg freezing process plus the IVF procedure—is not cheap. It depends on your clinic, but there are some average estimates:

  • Medications, or gonadotropins, that stimulate egg production, plus the actual harvesting of the eggs from the ovaries: $10,000
  • Storing of the eggs once they're retrieved: $500 per year
  • The thawing, fertilization and transferral embryos to the uterus during IVF: $5,000

For some women, it will take multiple tries, so many clinics and hospitals offer reduced costs for those who undergo two or more rounds of treatment. Payment plans are often an option, and some insurance companies and infertility groups can help patients with the costs, as well, says Shepherd.

It’s not 100 percent effective
With many ART options, it’s not guaranteed the process will be successful. Your eggs may not survive freezing, thawing or fertilization, or that you could have to keep repeating the process to get pregnant. “There’s a possibility that you may not harvest the size or the amount of eggs that are optimal for retrieving,” says Shepherd. "Or, if they are retrieved, they may not be the quality of what would be good for an actual pregnancy, so they won't recommend you freeze those."

The timeframe that a mother preserves her eggs is a major factor in its success rate; freezing during peak reproductive years increases the chances. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the chances of a single frozen egg leading to a successful pregnancy is about 2 to 12 percent; those chances grow the more eggs you freeze. Still, more and more babies are being born thanks to women freezing their eggs.

It's more likely to lead to a multiple birth pregnancy
Using IVF may increase your chances of getting pregnant with more than one baby. The reason? Multiple eggs are often fertilized during the process, and more than one embryo may be transferred to your uterus. Many doctors recommend limiting the amount of embryos transferred, and some even suggest one at a time is best if there are multiple options.

It comes with side effects and risks
While egg freezing and IVF processes can help couples who are unable to get pregnant on their own, there are some mild-to-moderate risks and side effects involved.

And like all pregnancies, a risk of birth defects, miscarriage and tubal pregnancy does exist. Birth defect risk is slightly higher for those who use IVF than the general population.

Whether the increased risk is due to the IVF procedure itself or the mother’s age and other factors is still being studied. The rate of miscarriage for all pregnancies is as low as 15 percent for women in their 20s, while it’s 50 percent for women in their 40s. And, as with any multiple birth pregnancy, the chances for fetal health problems or birthing complications increases. However, since many women successfully give birth to multiple babies, these cautions are just something to be aware of.

Medically reviewed in December 2018.

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