If you are waiting to start a family in the near future or have children and are considering freezing your eggs but are unsure where to start – we’re here to help!
Interest in egg freezing has surged more than 20% since the pandemic as both couples and single woman want to wait it out before they have children. The economy, impact on career and struggling to meet someone are the focal reasons as to why this has become an appealing option.
Fertility specialist and Medical Director of IVI London - César Díaz-García – provides a breakdown on what to expect when considering and going through with freezing your eggs.
Why egg freezing is on the rise
Egg freezing was first invented in the 1980s but didn’t really go mainstream until the 2000s. Since then, it has steadily gained popularity, particularly over the last decade. In part this is due to the increased availability and better results of treatment, but a huge part is down to cultural changes. People tend to lead busier, more career-driven lives and wait longer and longer to have children, and this is especially true of the millennial generation. Difficulty in getting on the housing ladder, lack of job security and other financial pressures are also possible factors in delaying starting a family.
We’ve also seen more and more celebrities speak out about their decision to freeze eggs which has led to increased awareness of egg freezing and other fertility treatments like IVF and egg donation. More often than not, when we see a big news article about a celebrity fertility treatment, we see a spike in enquires about it!
COVID-19 has spurred the trend too. Since the pandemic, at IVI we’ve seen a surge of more than 20% in egg freezing enquiries – that’s huge. This is probably down to the limited social interaction and dating opportunities meaning people are less likely to find partners, and fears about the pandemic’s impact on the economy and job security. Because of this, many more people are deciding to delay starting a family and have fertility treatment as a back-up option until they feel ready and have found the right partner.
What is involved?
In your first appointment, a fertility specialist will perform an examination and run tests to assess your chances. Although age plays a major role here, other factors like lifestyle, genetics and pre-existing conditions like endometriosis can all factor in.
Treatment then begins with ovarian stimulation, which uses hormone injections over 10 – 12 days to help the body to produce more eggs than normal. Once enough eggs have matured, we induce ovulation and 36 hours later we retrieve the eggs.
The egg collection lasts no longer than 20 minutes and is performed under sedation so you won’t feel any discomfort. Once collected, the eggs are immediately frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196°C (also known as vitrification). Recovery is fast and you’re normally discharged within one hour, although we do recommend taking the day off to rest.
What the chances of having a baby are after egg freezing
At IVI, we freeze eggs using a process called vitrification. It’s an ultrafast freezing method which preserves the quality of an egg on the day it was frozen until the day it is thawed. Thanks to this advanced technology, it has the same chances of achieving a pregnancy as a ‘fresh’ egg. For this reason, egg freezing works best when you are naturally more fertile, so we recommend that people do it before the age of 35 if they can.
As a guideline, if you freeze 15 eggs before you turn 35, your chance of having a live birth is nearly 70%. If you freeze 15 eggs after the age of 35, this drops to 38%. But everyone is different and individual lifestyle, pre-existing health conditions and other factors can play a role.
It is also important to realise that egg freezing doesn’t always result in a baby, but there are lots of other options available such as using donor eggs. To best understand your individual chances, it’s a good idea to book an initial consultation with a fertility clinic.
How best to prepare
Just like as if you were trying to have a baby, in the lead up to egg freezing you should try to lead a healthy lifestyle to support your fertility. That means getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, moderating caffeine and losing weight if this is advised by your doctor.
Cortisol can also negatively impact fertility and so if you often feel stressed, try to mitigate this by finding new ways to relax such as yoga, mindfulness, baths and walks.
The egg freezing process itself is a routine procedure and while it’s not painful, it can be uncomfortable at times – your consultant will explain all the steps involved but if you have worries then make sure you raise them as they will be able to reassure you.
It’s also important to recognise that freezing eggs is a big decision for many people, and so it’s a good idea to have a supportive partner, friend or family member to be there for you during the process. The procedure may also bring up some unexpected emotions. We have a fertility counsellor at IVI available to all our patients to provide psychological support.”
Who should consider it
Egg freezing works best for people before the age of 35, but is generally offered up to the age of 38. While the treatment can still be performed after the age of 38, each case is carefully assessed. Our patients typically include those who want to delay starting a family for social (e.g. lifestyle choices) or medical reasons. For example, motivations range from needing more time to pursue a career opportunity to preserving fertility before a cancer treatment like chemotherapy.
We also see many people who aren’t sure whether they want kids, but would like reassurance in case they change their mind. Others haven’t found the right person or aren’t at the right place in their relationship. Of course, at IVI we see and help a lot of single people successfully become parents through donor sperm treatments. Becoming a parent can take many, many routes, and that’s something worth celebrating.
What’s next beyond egg freezing over the next 20 – 30 years
There’s research exploring how we can grow eggs and sperm from scratch in the lab using stem cells. Stem cells are very special in that they are the cells from which all other cells are created. However, the body uses them in very limited ways, which is why we still age and our health begins to deteriorate. If we can activate stem cells in the lab, there’s great potential to grow new tissues.
However, in the case of growing eggs and sperm from stem cells, this is very complex and we’re unlikely to see it being ready for humans for at least another 20 years. The issue is that even if we can grow an egg, fertilise it and generate a healthy embryo, we need to study whether there are any long-term effects on that child. For example, Dolly the Sheep (the world’s first mammal cloned from an adult cell) was a success in many ways, but lived a far shorter life than expected for her breed.
This technology holds much promise for those who are infertile (which counts for 15% of us and, of those, 28% are caused by not having eggs or sperm), same-sex couples, singles, and fertile couples who are carriers of serious genetic diseases.
It’s unlikely we will see a surge in older parents though – advancing age still means a significant increase in the risk of complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and pre-term delivery. At the moment, most fertility clinics won’t offer treatment to anyone over the age of 50 years for these reasons. Perhaps in the far future that could change with significant advances in regenerative medicine, gene editing and human lifespan but it’s all just speculation for now.
For more information, visit: www.ivi.uk/clinics/london/
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