Egg freezing is done for a variety of reasons, including fertility preservation after the diagnosis of cancer, but also for social reasons. For information on egg freezing or sperm freezing before cancer treatments please see our section on Cancer Fertility Preservation.
Egg Freezing Revolution
Social egg freezing refers to the banking of eggs for the purpose of delaying childbearing. In 2013 the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) removed the ‘experimental’ label from this technology, and since then its popularity has increased exponentially. Social egg freezing is important because women in our society are choosing to have children later in life. According to Statistics Canada 2010 marked the first time in our history that more women in their 30’s were having children than women in their 20’s. In British Columbia the percentage of live births to women age 35 and older rose from 11% in 1990 to 23 % in 2011. The most common reason that women delay having a family is the lack of a suitable partner.
In order to freeze eggs, a woman must undergo a very similar process to an IVF cycle. This involves injections of gonadotropin hormones for approximately 10 days to stimulate the eggs to grow. The eggs are then removed from the ovaries and checked under a microscope for maturity. Unfortunately, egg quality cannot be tested at this point but it can be inferred based on a woman’s age. Mature eggs are then frozen (cryopreserved) using flash-freezing technology called vitrification. Eggs can be frozen for an indefinite amount of time without damage to the eggs. According to Canadian guidelines, women can use their frozen eggs to achieve a pregnancy up until age 50.
Here are some helpful articles by PCRM doctors that might be of interest to you:
- British Columbia Medical Journal – Social egg freezing: A viable option for fertility preservation
- Huffington Post – As a fertility doctor, here’s what I wish women knew about egg freezing
- Refinery29 – What women need to know (but don’t) about fertility
- Globe&Mail – Want to hire more women? Make your workplace fertility friendly
- Reader’s Digest Best Health – Should you freeze your eggs?
- Podcast: Inner Circle with Carrie Doll – Dr. Caitlin Dunne on Infertility & Egg freezing
- Basenotes – Let’s talk about freezing your eggs
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the ideal age to freeze eggs?
Because a woman is born with all of her eggs, there is a decrease throughout life in both quality and quantity. The ideal age to freeze eggs is around 34 years, although many women choose to wait until later in life and they can still have excellent results. Our doctors published a review of social egg freezing in the British Columbia Medical Journal which can be found here if you would like to read more.
What is vitrification?
Vitrification (a.k.a. flash freezing) provides the ability to freeze eggs and embryos with a much higher degree of success than the ‘slow freezing’ method used in the past. In vitrification, the tissue undergoes a controlled plunge into liquid nitrogen, within a protecting solution. The thaw process permits excellent cell recovery, and in several trials, the survival rates of embryos is up to 15X higher versus older techniques. This superior method permits multiple new fertility treatments such as high performance egg freezing, embryo biopsy for genetic screening, and a myriad of other benefits.
How much does egg freezing cost?
For an outline of costs, please see our Fees section.
The total cost of egg freezing, including medications, can range from $10 – 14 000. Our fees include the first year of storage. If you have extended medical insurance you might want to check whether fertility medications and/or fertility treatment procedures are covered. A list of Drug Identification Numbers (DINs) can be found here.
How long does the egg freezing process take?
The process for egg freezing is very similar to an IVF cycle. You will take hormone injections for approximately 8 – 12 days and have regular ultrasounds to check on the follicle growth. Ultrasounds occur in the morning between 7 – 9 am and you should be prepared to attend at least 3 – 5 visits. You will have 2 days’ notice before your egg retrieval. On the day of egg retrieval you should take the day off work and ensure you have a ride home. You will be sedated for the egg retrieval, which takes about 10 minutes and is minimally invasive. In total that day, you will be at our centre for 1 – 3 hours and you might feel sleepy, bloated and/or have mild nausea that day.
Can I workout during my egg freezing cycle?
No, you cannot do heavy exercise during your treatment cycle. Because your ovaries will be enlarged, they are at risk for twisting (ovarian torsion) or trauma if you exercise. Gentle activity such as walking is safe and encouraged. You can resume your normal exercise routine about 7 – 14 days after your egg retrieval when you get a period.
What are the side-effects of egg freezing?
The most common side-effects of ovarian stimulation are bloating and abdominal fullness or cramping. Some people experience mild headaches or nausea. The injections may cause pain or bruising at the injection site.
The egg retrieval procedure is minimally invasive. Under ultrasound guidance, a needle is passed through the top of the vagina into the ovaries, in order to suction out the follicular fluid containing the eggs. Serious risks of this procedure are considered rare but can include infection, bleeding or damage to the bladder, bowel or internal blood vessels.
Does egg freezing cause me to go into menopause earlier?
No, egg freezing does not cause early menopause. Each month the ovaries produce a cohort (group) of eggs. Normally, one of these eggs ovulates and the rest die. That process repeats, month after month, regardless of whether a woman is on the birth control pill, pregnant, breastfeeding, etc. Therefore, when we remove eggs for freezing, we are removing eggs that would have died anyway – so the process does not ‘waste’ eggs or lead to earlier menopause.