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Egg Freezing: Should It Be on the To-Do List for the New Year?

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Freeze my eggs? Consider it.

In today's society, at least one in five women waits to begin their families until after age 35. In theory, this is a smart choice — women are typically mature at age 35; they are likely to be established in their careers; and they have had time to find the right partner and strengthen their partnership.

The problem is, if you are thinking of waiting until after 35, your eggs will be more mature, too. And older eggs simply don't make it easy to become a parent. Infertility rates are higher, as are the rates of miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage. So if you are putting off childbirth for career reasons, or you haven't found the right partner, or you simply don't feel ready for parenting, egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation) may be one investment you should explore.

"I do believe this is a good investment, but I think patients have to treat it as an investment, not as a guarantee," says Mary Hinckley, M.D., a fertility doctor with the Reproductive Science Center (RSC) of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Investing in Egg Freezing

While successful freezing of sperm and embryos has been done for decades, the advances in egg freezing — with a newer fast-freezing method called vitrification — are much more recent. Pregnancy rates using embryos from formerly frozen eggs are rising, and more than 1,000 healthy babies have been born worldwide from frozen eggs.

Freezing your eggs is expensive. A woman must take fertility drugs to stimulate the ovaries, and then eggs are retrieved in a surgical procedure in the same manner as for in vitro fertilization (IVF). The fertility drugs and procedure typically cost a little over $10,000, according to Dr. Hinckley. Storing them costs approximately $1 a day. Then, thawing is approximately $5,000. And even with advances, it's important to note that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASMR) still considers egg freezing experimental.

"I believe that ASRM is holding a high standard — which is good," says Dr. Hinckley. "But I also think we know more about the success and health of egg freezing than we ever did about IVF when IVF was launched. Doctors should continue to enroll patients in databases and trials to accumulate outcome data to advise future patients."

Consider Egg Freezing Earlier, Rather than Later

Early investment is important for finances and for fertility. "The younger and healthier a woman’s eggs are, the more likely she will ultimately conceive with this technology," says Dr. Hinckley. "But even a young patient should not think of egg freezing as a guaranteed way to have a genetic child, as not every egg will survive the thaw and may not develop into a healthy embryo."

According to Dr. Hinckley, there are some women should seriously consider this option:

  • women who have a family history of premature menopause,
  • women who have had a history of ovarian surgery or chemotherapy who will have fewer eggs available in later years, and
  • women who are planning travel, school or career choices that will delay their attempts to get pregnant until age 35 to 39.

The best outcomes are in women who are younger than 35 when the eggs are frozen, says Dr. Hinckley. "However, a 35-year-old woman may find 'the man of her dreams' in the next several years and conceive naturally and never use the eggs she froze.

RSC does offer egg freezing to women under 40. "but 38 years old should be the cut off for most, with a normal FSH and AMH hormone test," says Dr. Hinckley.

As with any investment, the risk and reward is apparent. "If the woman goes into the procedure thinking of it as bonus attempts at a genetic child," Dr. Hinckley says, "her expectations will be appropriate."

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