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Freezing Eggs or Embryos and The Potential Benefits and Risks

Introduction: As women age, the health and viability of their eggs naturally decline, often making it more challenging to conceive past the age of 30. This stage of life frequently coincides with career-building years and a period when many women might not yet feel ready for the responsibilities of motherhood. For those seeking to balance these aspects of life, the option of freezing eggs or embryos presents a viable solution. 

This article delves into the processes of egg and embryo freezing, along with their respective benefits and risks, to help women make informed decisions about their reproductive futures.

Challenges with Fertility After 30

Most women’s eggs will gradually begin to lose their health once she passes thirty years old. And as eggs become less healthy, it becomes less likely they can be fertilized and develop into a baby. As such, once a woman passes the age of 30, it becomes increasingly harder for her to become pregnant.

This unfortunately coincides with the fact that young women are often busy building a career and having a baby can put a career on hold or even derail it altogether. Another issue is that young women are often not yet prepared for the responsibility of having a baby and it’s wise not to accept such a large commitment unless you’re ready. Regardless of the reason, many women have a choice of having children young or having no children at all.

However, there is a solution to the problem, which is to have your eggs or embryos frozen when you’re young so you can use them later. Here’s a closer look at how the process works, and some of the potential benefits and risks.

An image of a First fertility doctor explaining the Embryo transfer in the clinic.

An image of a First fertility doctor explaining the Embryo transfer in the clinic.

The Process of Freezing Eggs or Embryos

To begin with, doctors will need to collect your eggs from your ovaries. Patients are typically given hormone injections to help stimulate egg production first. Healthy eggs are then flash-frozen using liquid nitrogen, a method that freezes the eggs almost instantly. The eggs can then be kept frozen in storage until the mother decides it’s time to start a family.

Of course, freezing embryos is a little different because there’s an additional process involved. This additional process is fertilizing the eggs with sperm so they develop into embryos under laboratory conditions. The fertilized eggs are then incubated and once mature enough, the embryos are flash-frozen with the same process used for freezing eggs.

These eggs or embryos can then be stored for 10 years or so and still be viable, giving women more freedom in terms of when they start a family. But being able to choose between having eggs or embryos frozen means you have a decision to make.

Considering Egg vs. Embryo Freezing

There are various pros and cons associated with freezing eggs or embryos, with each method offering benefits or risks, which include the following:

Advantages of Freezing Eggs

  • No Sperm Required: Eggs can be frozen and stored without the need for sperm to fertilize them first. This makes freezing eggs a good solution for women who don’t currently have a partner and don’t wish to use a donor.
  • More Flexibility in Choosing the Father: Relationships don’t always work out, so there’s a good chance your partner in 10 years will be a different person than your current partner. Most women will unlikely want a baby with a previous partner as the father, and freezing eggs lets you choose the father when you decide the time is right.
  • No Moral Dilemma: Freezing eggs rather than embryos means the patient doesn’t have to overcome any moral doubts associated with freezing embryos. As such, egg freezing is often chosen by women with certain religious beliefs or other moral reservations regarding the procedure.

Disadvantages of Freezing Eggs

  • Decreased Chance of Success: One of the main drawbacks of freezing eggs over freezing embryos is that they are less likely to survive the freezing process intact. As such, many women choose this option to give themselves a better chance of success in the future. However, technological developments mean that eggs are catching up with embryos in this regard.

Benefits of Freezing Embryos

Survivability: One of the key benefits of freezing embryos over eggs is that they’re more likely to survive the process intact. As such, women who choose to have embryos frozen are more likely to have a successful pregnancy at some point in the future.

Fewer Eggs Needed: Fewer eggs are needed when freezing embryos rather than eggs. This, in turn, means fewer intrusive egg collection procedures and a lower chance of complications occurring. Undergoing fewer egg collection procedures is also more convenient for the patient.

Disadvantages of Freezing Embryos

Less Flexibility in Choosing the Father: When an egg is fertilized by a sperm, the process cannot be reversed. As such, the patient will have to have a baby fathered by a particular person regardless of their current relationship with them. This solution is fine for people who stay with the same partner but can be far from ideal for those who don’t.

Moral Issues: Many people see an embryo as a living person, so freezing them will be an uncomfortable decision to make. Not only that but there may come a time to decide to discard some or all of the embryos, worsening the moral dilemma further.

Overall Risks

Modern IVF treatment is largely a very safe procedure leaving the patient with little to worry about. However, there is a small chance of complications occurring during the egg retrieval and implantation procedures.

fertility specialist explaining IVF process.

fertility specialist explaining IVF process.

One way to help prevent any complications from occurring and, hopefully reaching a successful outcome is by taking care of yourself and your body. Eating well, getting a reasonable amount of exercise and taking care of your mental health will help ensure a strong and healthy reproductive system. The stronger and healthier you are, the more likely you will be celebrating the arrival of a new addition to your family.

Summary

Above is a brief outline of the pros and cons involved with freezing eggs or embryos. Both methods have their own risks and benefits which makes each method more or less suitable for different people.

And remember that looking after yourself will help get the best results regardless of which procedure you use. Looking after yourself will not only help improve your chances of becoming pregnant, but it will also help ensure a strong and healthy baby.

If you have any questions regarding freezing eggs or embryos then get in touch with the team at First Fertility. The team will be looking forward to hearing from you and helping you start a family of your own.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

1. At What Age Do Women Typically Consider Freezing Their Eggs or Embryos?

Women often consider freezing their eggs or embryos around the age of 30, as that is when egg health starts to decline significantly. However, the best age can vary based on individual circumstances and medical advice.

2. What Is the Process for Freezing Eggs?

Freezing eggs involves stimulating egg production with hormone injections, collecting the eggs from the ovaries, and then flash-freezing them using liquid nitrogen. The eggs can remain frozen and viable for many years.

3. How Is Freezing Embryos Different From Freezing Eggs?

Freezing embryos involves an additional step of fertilizing the eggs with sperm to create embryos, which are then incubated and matured before being flash-frozen. This process is generally more likely to result in a successful pregnancy compared to freezing eggs alone.

4. What Are the Benefits of Freezing Eggs?

The benefits of freezing eggs include not needing sperm for fertilization, greater flexibility in choosing the father later, and avoiding moral dilemmas associated with freezing embryos. It allows women without a current partner to preserve their fertility options.

5. What Are the Disadvantages of Freezing Eggs?

One of the main drawbacks is a slightly decreased chance of success compared to freezing embryos, although technological advancements are improving these odds.

6. What Are the Benefits of Freezing Embryos?

Benefits include higher survivability rates during the freezing process and fewer egg retrieval procedures required, thus reducing medical risks and inconvenience.

7. Are There Any Disadvantages to Freezing Embryos?

Disadvantages include less flexibility in choosing the father in the future and potential moral issues, as some people consider embryos as living entities, which adds complexity to decisions about discarding unused embryos.

8. What Are the Overall Risks of Freezing Eggs or Embryos?

Modern IVF treatment is generally safe, but there are minor risks associated with egg retrieval and implantation procedures. Maintaining good health can help mitigate these risks and improve the chances of a successful outcome.

9. How Long Can Frozen Eggs or Embryos Remain Viable?

Frozen eggs and embryos can be stored for up to 10 years or more while still remaining viable. This offers women significant flexibility in deciding when to start a family.

10. How Can I Improve My Chances of a Successful Pregnancy After Freezing Eggs or Embryos?

Taking care of your physical and mental health by eating well, exercising regularly, and managing stress can enhance your reproductive health and improve your chances of a successful pregnancy in the future.

  • Published on : Monday January 30, 2023
  • Last updated : Friday July 5, 2024
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About the author

Michelle Tan is an IVF Consultant with 12 years of experience in fertility consulting. Having personally undergone IVF and surrogacy, she brings firsthand insight and empathy to her work. Based in Singapore, Michelle frequently travels to clinics in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Bishkek, sharing her expertise and supporting patients on their fertility journeys.