Everything You Need to Know About Egg and Sperm Freezing
Nearly 2,000 healthy babies have been born following egg freezing.
Egg freezing allows women to freeze a number of their eggs at a point in time when they are healthy and of good quality to potentially be used in the future. Women are born with a finite amount of eggs – their ovarian reserve – which declines naturally with age, so freezing healthy eggs is a viable option for women who wish to postpone having children.
Sperm freezing is offered by many clinics throughout the UK and men may begin the process for a number of different reasons, ranging from undergoing chemotherapy for cancer to being deployed to a warzone. In addition, those with a low sperm count or deteriorating quality of sperm may choose to undergo the process.
Your ovarian reserveNot all women of the same age will have the same number of eggs in their ovaries. There are a number of different factors that may influence ovarian reserve, such as medical history or whether you have been taking steroids. The success rates for egg freezing depends on the age of the women and the method of freezing; younger women freezing their eggs using vitrification will see the highest success rates.
A Fertility MOT can help you determine the number of eggs you may have in your ovaries. This is an advanced ultrasound scan where the quantity and quality of immature eggs in the ovaries are assessed.
Different freezing methodsOver the past few years, many clinics have switched from a slow freezing process to vitrification. This method significantly increases the chances of the egg surviving the freezing and thawing process.
This method avoids formation of damaging ice crystals during the freezing process, improving the thaw survival rate considerably – to almost 90%.
The egg freezing processWhen undergoing the egg freezing process, daily injections of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is taken from the second day of your period for around 10 days. During this time, you can expect to have three to four ultrasounds scans and blood tests which monitor the growth of the follicles.
Once the scans and blood tests indicate that the follicles have ripened, a trigger injection is given. Egg collection is then planned for around 34-36 hours afterwards. This procedure lasts for 15 to 25 minutes, and a mild sedation is given. The eggs are collected by a doctor passing a needle through the vagina into the ovary. The collected eggs are then frozen. These eggs can later be thawed for use in IVF when the time is right.
After the procedure, you will be told how many eggs were successfully collected, and will need to rest in the recovery section of the clinic for up to an hour, and at home for at least 24 hours.
Let’s talk numbers...The number of eggs frozen depends on age and egg reserve. Studies have shown that if you freeze 12 eggs when you are under the age of 35, you have a 50% chance of having a baby with those eggs. However, if you are older, it is likely fewer eggs will be frozen and the quality of those eggs may not be as good as those of a younger woman.
If you are considering undergoing egg freezing, it is important you ask a prospective clinic how many eggs they are looking to collect although bear in mind it is not a guarantee.
Sperm freezingThe process of sperm freezing is relatively simple. Blood screening tests must be carried out by UK law to test for infectious diseases, and this can be undertaken by a GP. The man will be asked to provide a sample in the clinic for freezing, and before this it is necessary to abstain from sex or masturbation for 2 to 5 days.
Increasing chances of successIn order to keep your eggs as healthy as possible, you should not smoke, ensure you eat a healthy and balanced diet and are not under- or over-weight.
Taking a lower dose of drugs within the IVF process to ripen the eggs (modern mild stimulation protocol) during the menstrual cycle can help the chances of collecting better quality eggs and also avoid health risks caused by high doses of drugs given during conventional fertility treatment.
For men undergoing sperm freezing, one sample of healthy semen will contain millions of sperm. Only one sperm is needed per egg, so the success rates are high. Much like egg freezing, a healthy diet and not smoking increase your chances. In addition, limiting alcohol consumption and reducing stress may also help.
CostThe total cost of one cycle of egg freezing could be around £3,500 - £4,500, although high doses of drugs can cost more and may not be necessary. There is an annual storage free, usually of a few hundred pounds, with the standard storage time in the UK being 10 years.
It currently costs around £150-£200 to freeze sperm, with an additional fee for annual storage.
by Professor Dr Geeta Nargund, Medical Director, CREATE Fertility