Egg Freezing for a Future Pregnancy: What to Know

Egg Freezing

What is egg freezing, and how long has it been available?

Women can have their own eggs frozen and stored, or can have donor eggs frozen and stored if there's a medical issue that prevents them from using their own.

The focus is often on using the technique for working women who aren't ready for motherhood.Also, some women may choose to have their eggs frozen because of medical issues, such as cancer treatment, that may affect their fertility.

About 5 million babies have been born worldwide after regular in vitro fertilization, or IVF, Richard J. Paulson, MD, estimates. He's chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. IVF combines eggs and sperm outside the body in a lab, allowing the sperm to fertilize the eggs. Once an embryo or embryos form, they're then placed in the woman's uterus.

Egg Freezing

Exact statistics on the number of babies born from frozen eggs are hard to get, says Zsolt Peter Nagy, PhD, an Atlanta embryologist and laboratory director. But he thinks it's about 5,000 births worldwide.

The process of freezing eggs was first described in people in 1986, Nagy says. The first reported birth from a frozen egg was that year.A newer technique known as vitrification uses ultra-rapid cooling that is not true freezing, but causes less damage to the egg than actual freezing, Nagy says.

Egg Freezing

What else does egg freezing involve?

First you receive fertility drugs to spur your ovaries to help more than one egg mature at a time, says Daniel Shapiro, MD, an Atlanta reproductive endocrinologist. This is called ovarian stimulation. It can help your body make 20 or 25 mature eggs (which are ready to be to be fertilized) per month, Shapiro says. That's instead of the usual one mature egg women release, or ovulate, into the uterus each month.

The procedure involves a variety of medications, including shots. Your doctor may give you other medicines to help your eggs mature and to prevent them from being released too early.To retrieve the eggs, a doctor guides a needle into each ovary with an ultrasound probe, and harvests the mature eggs while the woman is sedated. They can then be frozen and thawed as needed, and mixed with sperm to form embryos.