Egg freezing has become a popular option for women who want to preserve their fertility until they are ready to try for a baby. Egg quantity and quality begins decreasing after age 30, making it harder to get pregnant as a woman ages. If you are thinking about having your eggs frozen for any reason, you might be curious about what the process entails. You should talk to a fertility specialist about details, but if you know a little bit about what to expect during the egg freezing process, that conversation may be easier and more productive.
You can expect to go through four or five basic steps in the process:
1. Examination and Screening
If you decide you want to pursue egg freezing, then your doctor will want to give you an exam and do some tests to make sure you are a good candidate for the procedure. Blood tests will be performed to screen you for infectious diseases, like hepatitis B and C or HIV.
Another test that is often performed is an ovarian reserve test. This test will help the doctor determine the quantity and quality of your eggs. Blood will be drawn and tested to see the concentration of estradiol in the blood, usually on the third day of your menstrual cycle. Estradiol is a hormone that stimulates follicle development. The results of this test are important for predicting the success of the egg freezing process.
2. Ovarian Stimulation and Monitoring
After you have been screened and it has been determined that you are a good candidate for egg freezing, you will begin the process to prepare your body for the procedure. In a process called ovarian stimulation, you will be given hormonal medication to stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs.
The goal of ovarian stimulation in the egg freezing process is to prompt multiple ovarian follicles to begin the egg maturation process. A follicle is a fluid-filled sac that contains an immature egg (called an oocyte) and throughout a menstrual cycle, that egg matures. In a normal cycle, multiple follicles will begin to develop, but only one will mature and release through ovulation. Ovarian stimulation increases the number of follicles that will develop mature eggs.
The hormones you take to stimulate your ovaries will be administered through injection. You will be responsible for following the injection schedule and can either give yourself the injections or have a partner to help. You may also be given injections to prevent premature ovulation before the retrieval procedure is done.
While you are taking medications, you will also visit your fertility specialist several times for monitoring. Blood tests will be used to measure your hormone levels. Estrogen levels increase as the follicle develops and your progesterone level should remain low before ovulation. Additionally, vaginal ultrasounds are performed to monitor the development of the follicles. After about 10-14 days your follicles will be ready for the egg retrieval procedure.
3. Egg Retrieval Procedure
Once your ovarian follicles are ready for retrieval, you will get an injection to complete the egg maturing process and trigger the beginning of ovulation. The eggs will be retrieved via a transvaginal procedure rather than being released on their own.
On the day of the procedure, you will be given IV medication for light sedation and pain relief. The doctor will use an ultrasound-guided needle to remove the eggs from the follicles. The number of eggs retrieved can vary but is typically between 5 and 15. The more eggs retrieved, the greater the chance of a successful future pregnancy.
After you the retrieval procedure is complete, you will usually be able to return to work the next day. You might experience cramping or a feeling of pressure and fullness because your ovaries are still enlarged. To avoid unintended pregnancy, don’t have unprotected sex for a while after the treatment cycle is over.
Serious complications from the procedure are rare, but contact your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- A fever above 101.5 F
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Severe abdominal pain
- Difficulty urinating
- A weight gain of more than 2 pounds within 24 hours
After the egg retrieval procedure, your eggs will need to be frozen and stored. Before freezing can take place though, a technician will select only the mature eggs that were retrieved, as they are the only eggs that can be successfully fertilized. The most common freezing method is called vitrification, which uses liquid nitrogen to get the eggs to subzero temperatures. The eggs can then be stored for later use.
5. Begin Again (Maybe)
Depending on how many eggs were retrieved during the first egg freezing process, you may opt to do it again so you have more eggs and therefore more chances to get pregnant in the future. How many times you go through the process is up to you.
The general rule is that between 5 and 10 eggs are needed to produce 1 or 2 embryos that are of high enough quality to attempt pregnancy. Some women do back-to-back egg freezing cycles to meet their goal number of eggs and some do not. You and your fertility doctor can discuss what is right for you depending on your age, health, and the number of children you want to have.
Make an Appointment
At Carolina Conceptions, we are dedicated to helping you on the journey to build the family you want, and if elective egg freezing is part of that journey, we’ll be here to guide you through the process. Our doctors have helped make over 5,000 pregnancies happen since we opened in 2006. To make an appointment, call (919) 782-5911. New patients use extension 119 and existing patients use extension 100.