Egg freezing: Your questions answered

The number of women considering freezing their eggs to have children later in life is on the rise, according to new research. So what do you need to know?

More and more women are turning to egg freezing as an insurance policy against infertility, according to the Jean Hailes’ 2020 National Women’s Health Survey.

The survey found more than one in three women aged 25-44 would think about egg freezing, up nearly 15 per cent from the previous year.

The finding is backed by statistics like those from the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), which reveal that in that state alone, the number of women with eggs in storage doubled in just two years.

“Women in their early 30s or even in their 20s, who haven’t got a partner and who aren’t thinking about having children in the immediate future, for them I’d say the numbers are even higher than the survey shows,” says fertility specialist Dr Lynn Burmeister.

What is egg freezing and how does it work?

Oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, is the process of extracting, freezing and storing your eggs so they can be used later in life to try and have a baby.

“The ovaries are stimulated with hormone injections to produce a surplus of eggs, which are collected by the fertility doctor in surgery and snap frozen in a lab using a method called vitrification,” says Dr Burmeister, founder of the No.1 Egg Freeze Centre in Melbourne.

How many eggs do you need to freeze?

Monash University senior research fellow and IVF for Dummies author Dr Karin Hammarberg says the older a woman is, the more eggs she needs to give herself a chance of having a baby in the future.

“The number of the eggs that develop when the ovaries are stimulated declines with increasing age,” she explains.

“A woman in her early 30s might have 15 to 20 eggs available for freezing after the hormone stimulation.

“But for women in their late 30s and early 40s the number is usually much lower, so they often need several cycles to get to that number.”

Main reasons for freezing eggs

Health is one reason women choose to freeze their eggs, particularly those wanting to preserve their fertility before cancer treatment, says VARTA.

Then there are social and personal reasons, with many women delaying trying to have kids.

“The major reason women freeze their eggs is that they haven’t met Mr Right. That’s what I see in my practice; most women are coming in, they haven’t met Mr Right, they don’t want to use donor sperm at this stage and so this is their only option,” Dr Burmeister says.

“It gives women some control back over their future.”

How long can eggs be kept frozen?

Biologically, eggs can be stored forever, however Victorians need to apply to VARTA to store them longer than 10 years.

“Some women who freeze their eggs never use them because they later fall pregnant naturally or their life plans change,” says Dr Burmeister, who has treated more than 10,000 women.

Recent University of Melbourne research found less than one in five women who freeze their eggs actually end up using them.

The researchers encouraged women who no longer need their frozen eggs to consider donating them to prevent “wastage”.

“Freezing eggs is an expensive process, so women who have frozen eggs but no longer require them, as they have completed their family or do not wish to use them in the future, could donate their eggs and be reimbursed for the egg freezing costs they had incurred,” says University of Melbourne researcher and IVF clinician Dr Polyakov in a statement.

“This would increase the supply of donor eggs, with less women having to travel overseas, and at the same time for women freezing their eggs, reduce the number of eggs discarded and improve the cost effectiveness of the process.”

What is the success rate of egg freezing?

“The chance of having a baby from frozen eggs depends on the age of a woman when her eggs are frozen and the number of eggs she freezes,” Dr Hammarberg says.

Scientific studies have estimated freezing 10 eggs at age 35 or younger gives women a 69 per cent chance of having a live birth, which drops to 50 per cent for women aged 37 and 30 per cent for women aged 40 at the time of egg freezing.

Are there any risks involved in egg freezing?

While egg freezing is considered safe, as with any medical procedure there is the risk of potential complications.

“Side effects are rare but some include bloating, nausea, mood changes, bleeding or infection,” says Dr Burmeister.

How much does egg freezing cost?

Costs can vary significantly based on factors, including how many cycles you might need – and then there’s hospital stays, medication and egg storage.

“Ten years ago to freeze your eggs was about $10,000 to $15,000 but when I opened my clinic I started the process at $2500 for out of pocket clinic costs, with medication and theatre costs on top of that,” Dr Burmeister says.

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Written by Liz McGrath.