Freezing your eggs is seen by many as an insurance policy – allowing people to delay having children while they focus on different aspects of their life. Some are unsure if it’s right for them as egg freezing is expensive, invasive and does not guarantee a future pregnancy. Here we’ll explore what egg freezing involves, how much it can cost and what risks are involved.
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is a method of fertility preservation, where eggs are collected and stored in order to try and have a family in the future. Frozen eggs can be thawed and used in fertility treatments at a later time.
When is egg freezing suitable?
Egg freezing can be a suitable treatment option for both medical and non-medical reasons. You could consider egg freezing if:
- you have a medical condition or need treatment that may affect your future fertility (such as chemotherapy or are starting a long-term medication which can negatively affect fertility)
- you are worried about your fertility or you are not ready to have children yet (also known as elective or social egg freezing)
- you are undergoing fertility treatment and do not wish to fertilise all of your eggs for ethical or religious reasons
- you are undergoing gender transition from a female to a male
How is egg freezing performed? The step-by-step process:
Go to a fertility clinic for a set of fertility tests
This is likely to include an AMH test, an internal ultrasound scan to assess your ovarian reserve and a blood test.
Have a consultation with a doctor
Your fertility specialist will review the results of your investigations and help create a plan for treatment. You will also be required to sign consents for your treatment. This is an important step, as the consents are there to protect you and your eggs, and they will indicate how long you want your eggs to be stored. You will have a lot of paperwork from the clinic and be sure to ask your doctor or nurse if there is anything that doesn’t make sense.
The hormone stimulation stage of the egg freezing process involves daily injections of medication called gonadotropins. These drugs encourage your ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The stimulation process lasts for roughly 2 weeks.
During the stimulation, you will attend the clinic for ultrasound monitoring every 2–3 days to ensure that your ovaries are responding well to the medication. It’s possible to have blood tests during this time as well. The dosage of the medication is subject to change based on how your ovaries are responding. Once the follicles in your ovaries have reached an appropriate size, you’ll be given a trigger injection (the final injection to help the eggs mature) and your egg collection will be scheduled.
The egg collection generally takes place under sedation and you will need to fast in advance of the procedure if this is the case. Your clinic will inform you of when to stop eating, what medications to take and when to arrive at the clinic. The eggs are collected from the follicles in your ovaries using a long needle and transvaginal ultrasound scan. The fluid from the follicles is collected in test tubes that are passed to the embryologist in the laboratory, who will find the eggs under a microscope. The final number of eggs is confirmed once all follicles have been emptied and all test tubes have been checked.
You will receive an update from the laboratory on how many eggs are mature and have been successfully frozen. It is recommended to take the day off from work and give yourself some recovery time. Your nurse should let you know what medication to take for pain relief if you need it.
What are the costs of egg freezing?
The average cost of an egg freezing cycle in the UK is around £3,350. This will often include the cost of the consultation and investigations, but it can vary from clinic to clinic, so be sure to get an estimate from your clinic. The medication for the hormone stimulation and the annual storage fee are often additional costs. When freezing eggs, you might not be thinking of the cost of using them in the future, but we’ve included it in this table:
Average cost of egg freezing in the UK
|Egg collection and freezing (1 cycle)
|Hormone stimulation medication
|Egg storage (per year)
|Thawing, fertilisation and transfer
|Total cost of 1 cycle of egg freezing, 5-year storage and thawing
Are there any risks involved?
Risks with egg freezing include side effects from the hormone stimulation medication, like headaches, nausea, hot flushes, mood swings and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). There is also a risk that the treatment might not work when using your frozen eggs and a pregnancy can not be guaranteed. Your fertility specialist will work with you to determine the number of eggs to freeze and should convey any additional risks to you.
How successful is egg freezing?
Egg freezing treatments are increasing in number, however, the utilisation rate is still low. The utilisation rate refers to the number of people that are ready to have treatment with their own frozen eggs. One recent study has shown that only 6% of women have returned to have treatment with their frozen eggs. Success rates will highly depend on your age and the number of eggs you freeze. For patients aged 35 years or younger, about 15 mature eggs are needed for an anticipated 85% chance of future live birth, with more eggs required as patients age. You should discuss the number of eggs you should be aiming to freeze and the likelihood of success with your fertility specialist.
Two recent studies showed that most people that had frozen their eggs went on to conceive naturally. However, despite not needing them, the vast majority of people (91%) reported having no regrets over their decision to freeze their eggs and nearly everyone (98%) said they would recommend the process to a friend.