July 5, 2023

What To Know About Freezing Your Eggs

Oocyte cryopreservation is a proven way to extend your fertility options for the future

medical practitioner's hand placing sealed tube containing egg into liquid nitrogen tank

If you think you want to have children someday, but now just isn’t the time, freezing your eggs is an option that can help preserve your fertility for the future.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Reproductive endocrinology fertility specialist Jenna Rehmer, MD, FACOG, explains how freezing your eggs works and what to take into consideration if you’re thinking about doing it.

Why do people freeze their eggs?

On the whole, Americans are waiting longer than ever to have children, and many people choose to freeze their eggs with the hopes of improving their chances of getting pregnant later in life.

“There are a number of reasons you might want to freeze your eggs,” Dr. Rehmer says, “but essentially, most of them can be boiled down to the fact that you’re not yet ready to achieve pregnancy in your current situation.”

Here are some of these reasons:

  • It isn’t the right time: You may feel financially or emotionally unprepared to have kids, or maybe your career is currently taking precedent. “People who delay pregnancy for non-medical reasons want to have options for when they are eventually ready to start a family,” Dr. Rehmer notes.
  • A medical condition that impacts your fertility: Kidney disease, multiple sclerosis and lupus can all affect fertility. “The treatment for some of these conditions may impact your ability to become pregnant or safely carry a pregnancy,” she continues. “Egg freezing can provide options for the future.”
  • You’re preparing for medical treatment: Radiation and chemotherapy can be toxic to your eggs and ovaries. If you’re preparing for treatment, freezing your eggs can preserve your future fertility options.
  • You’re transitioning genders: If you were assigned female at birth but are beginning your gender transition, egg-freezing can help you can become pregnant or allow a gestational surrogate to carry your child in the future.

What happens when you freeze your eggs?

The process of freezing your eggs — technically known as oocyte cryopreservation — all starts with a visit to a fertility specialist, who’ll walk you through the process. Dr. Rehmer explains each step:

1. Testing and assessments

You’ll start with a consultation with a physician, typically a reproductive endocrinology fertility specialist. Through blood tests, they’ll assess the number of eggs you have (known as your ovarian reserve). They may order a sonogram or ultrasound, as well. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations also require you to get an infectious disease screening for conditions like HIV and hepatitis B and C.

2. Hormone injections

You’ll start a series of hormone injections that stimulate your ovaries and encourage multiple eggs to mature. During follow-up visits, your care providers will monitor the ovaries and eggs through ultrasound.

This part requires multiple doctor’s visits. “Let’s say you stimulate for 10 days,” Dr. Rehmer says. “During that timeframe, you might undergo three ultrasounds, roughly at three-day intervals, in order to see the development of the eggs during the process.”

3. Egg retrieval

Your eggs are collected during a one-time, outpatient procedure that takes about 15 to 20 minutes. The procedure is done under anesthesia, so it isn’t painful, and you can go home the same day.

Dr. Rehmer explains that an ultrasound is used to see the ovary, and a tiny needle — the same kind used to draw blood — is inserted into your ovary to safely withdraw the eggs.

Advertisement

4. Vitrification

Your collected eggs are then flash-frozen in a process called vitrification, which ensures that no ice crystals form on them. Since becoming widely used circa 2005, vitrification has boosted the success rate for people who try to get pregnant using eggs they’ve frozen.

What happens when it’s time to use your eggs?

If you want to use your eggs later, they’ll be thawed and then fertilized with sperm from your partner or a donor to create an embryo, which develops in a lab for five or six days.

The embryo is implanted into your uterus during a minor procedure that feels like a Pap smear. Your doctor will insert a speculum through your vagina and, under ultrasound guidance, use a flexible, hollow catheter to transfer the embryo into your uterus for potential pregnancy.

How long can eggs stay frozen?

After they’ve been vitrified, your eggs can be stored indefinitely — until you want to use them.

“Frozen eggs and embryos are essentially viable forever,” Dr. Rehmer clarifies. “But most people use their frozen eggs within three to 10 years’ time, and there should be no worries whatsoever about keeping the eggs safely frozen within that timeframe.”

If you don’t end up using your eggs (like if you get pregnant on your own or decide you don’t want to have children), they can be discarded, or donated to research or to another couple.

How long does the process take?

After you’ve met with your fertility specialist and undergone the requisite tests, the egg-freezing process itself — from hormone stimulation to egg retrieval — takes only a couple of weeks.

That’s good news if you’re in a hurry based on your medical timeline. “The beauty of this process is that it can be performed at a very quick pace for patients who need it,” Dr. Rehmer states. If you have cancer, for example, and your oncologist wants to start chemotherapy soon, you can freeze your eggs in as little as two weeks.

“We’re talking eight to 14 days from the time you start the medication to the time your eggs are out of the ovaries and into the laboratory for freezing,” she adds.

How many eggs are ideal to freeze?

“It’d be ideal to freeze as many eggs as possible,” Dr. Rehmer says, “but we’re oftentimes limited by the number of eggs available based on each patient’s ovarian reserve, age and other medical circumstances.”

Advertisement

The egg retrieval process typically yields 10 to 12 eggs, but it’s likely that not all of your eggs will survive the thawing process, and others won’t fertilize. Others fertilize abnormally, and still others don’t “take” in the uterus to become a pregnancy.

To increase the number of eggs in storage, some people choose to do multiple cycles of egg collection.

The risks of freezing your eggs

It’s estimated that each egg you freeze has about a 4.5% to 12% chance of becoming a baby someday. But it’s not guaranteed that those eggs will lead to pregnancy. “It’s a good technology, but it’s not a perfect technology,” Dr. Rehmer states.

  • PMS-like side effects: The hormone injections you’ll take at the beginning of the process can cause symptoms like bloating, irritability, cramping, and hot and cold flashes.
  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome: This condition can cause your ovaries to swell and leak fluid into your body. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which occurs about 5% of the time, is most common in people with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
  • Anesthesia risks: There are potential complications associated with going under anesthesia, but Dr. Rehmer says they’re uncommon during egg-freezing. “Healthy patients typically do well under anesthesia, and the risks are very low for the type of anesthesia we use,” she explains.
  • Needle punctures: During egg retrieval, there’s a very small risk of injury from the needle. “There’s under a 1% risk of puncture of an internal structure — the bowel, bladder, uterus, cervix or a blood vessel,” Dr. Rehmer says.

How much does freezing your eggs cost?

The process of freezing your eggs typically costs around $10,000 to $12,000. That includes the tests, labs, ultrasounds and the procedure — everything except an annual storage fee and the follow-up procedure when it comes time to use your eggs.

Some insurance plans cover medical or elective egg freezing, and employers like Apple and Meta have made headlines for covering the cost as a perk for employees. But usually, that’s not the case, and you’ll likely have to pay out of pocket.

Freezing your eggs isn’t a guarantee of pregnancy

Making the decision to freeze your eggs can help preserve your fertility options down the road — but it’s important to recognize that it still doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to conceive or carry to live birth. Embryos can develop abnormally or not implant in your uterus, and miscarriage is still a risk during pregnancy.

“It’s a very good option for many people, and it’s safe and frequently effective,” Dr. Rehmer says. “But unfortunately, there is simply no way to guarantee the results.”

Related Articles

doctor speaking with middle-age woman
February 21, 2024
Does Your Health Determine Menopause Age?

Reaching menopause very early raises your risk of certain health conditions

Female speaking with doctor, with uterus and ovary with cysts
February 21, 2024
Can PCOS Cause Weight Gain?

The common hormonal condition is linked to insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain

Older woman awake in bed in the middle of the night looking a smartphone
February 20, 2024
Does Menopause Cause Insomnia and Sleeplessness?

Hormone changes can definitely leave you tossing and turning at night, but help is available

Teal awareness ribbon in doctor's hand, symbolic bow color for supporting patient with PCOS
February 7, 2024
Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Genetic?

While this hormonal condition can be hereditary, there are other risk factors to also consider

healthcare provider speaking with older female in office
February 6, 2024
How Estrogen Supports Heart Health

Your natural estrogen levels support a healthy heart by improving your cholesterol, increasing blood flow and reducing free radicals

female on couch clutching stomach area
January 30, 2024
How To Find Relief From Chronic Pelvic Pain

Endometriosis, pelvic floor dysfunction and bladder issues can all contribute, but relief is within reach

healthcare provider speaking with a pregnant woman sitting on exercise ball
January 26, 2024
Natural Birth: Coping Skills for Labor Without Medication

Use relaxation techniques and breathwork to help manage the discomforts of a medication-free birth

older female showing doctor where breast tenderness is
January 24, 2024
Does Menopause Cause Breast Pain?

Hormone changes may lead to sore breasts, but lifestyle changes can help

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery

Ad