Egg freezing is a revolutionary technology that allows mature eggs to be frozen and stored for later use. Initially developed as a means to ‘preserve’ the fertility of women ahead of cancer treatment, it is now increasingly used by women wishing to protect their fertility for a variety of ‘social’ reasons. Since we know that a woman’s fertility – including her ovarian reserve and egg quality – declines with age, elective egg freezing offers one option to those wishing to conceive later.
The first baby conceived from a ‘vitrified’ egg was born in 2010. Since then the procedure has moved ahead rapidly, for both medical and non-medical reasons. In 2014 Apple and Facebook announced that they would cover the cost of egg freezing for their female employees, catapulting discussions of egg freezing into the popular media.
Currently, there are three main reasons why egg freezing may be used for fertility preservation:
To preserve fertility ahead of other treatments which may affect the ovaries and fertility (such as chemotherapy)
For gender re-assignment surgery
To offset concerns about age-related fertility and fertility decline
It is for the third reason – referred to as ‘elective’ egg freezing for ‘social’ reasons – that we are seeing the most significant increase. In such cases, egg freezing enables a woman who does not currently wish to have a baby, but may do at some time in the future, to preserve her current rates of fertility. For example, a 35-year-old who freezes her eggs and uses them when she is 39, will be attempting conception with the eggs of a 35-year-old, and will thus be giving herself a better chance of pregnancy.
The first step would be to consider a fertility MOT and to find out if your eggs are likely to be suitable for freezing. The treatment process begins very similarly to IVF - a course of injections to stimulate the ovaries so several eggs can be collected. The eggs are then fast-frozen using a technique called vitrification, which very quickly transforms the eggs to a glass-like state (‘vitrifies’).
Egg freezing is still a relatively new procedure and the number of women coming back to thaw their frozen eggs is small. Success rates for these women are good, although success - as in IVF - depends on the woman’s age and the quality of the thawed eggs.
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