With the innovation of advanced technologies and a fast-moving lifestyle, it has today become normal for couples to have children when they are mentally willing and committed to parenthood. However, it is undeniable that most couples face difficulty conceiving in the later stage of life due to increasing fertility problems.
As a result, assisted reproductive techniques, including egg freezing, have turned out to be saviours for couples, especially women who wish to conceive in the later stages of their life. Medically known as mature oocyte cryopreservation, it is a method that involves saving a women’s ability to get pregnant in the future. In this method, unfertilised eggs are harvested from the ovaries and frozen to be used later, where they can be combined with the sperm and implanted in the uterus manually, explained Dr Swati Mishra, consultant, Birla Fertility and IVF.
Who can benefit from it?
“Egg freezing is a reliable option for women who are not yet ready to get pregnant and wish to conceive in their thirties. One of the most significant advantages of this technique is that it is a multi-step process and does not require sperm from the donor, and can be fertilised at the time of conception,” said Dr Mishra.
Before opting for this method, it is crucial to understand when a woman can use this option. These include:
In case of Infertility: Majority of the couples are unable to conceive due to various factors that can cause fertility problems, including any disease like lupus, sickle cell anaemia, or PCOD.
In case of cancer treatment: The treatment of cancers leaves a significant impact on the body, weakening different organs. Certain medication and therapies like chemotherapy can emit harmful radiations that can affect one’s fertility.
During IVF: In vitro fertilization is another method that involves fertilising eggs with sperm in vitro. Depending upon the case, doctors may even suggest egg freezing to women as per the requirement.
Delayed pregnancy: Some couples wish to delay pregnancy and safely preserve young eggs for their future pregnancy.
Physical problems: In some instances of infections, organ failure, or other physical issues like endometriosis (which is a condition in which tissues grow outside the womb blocking the fallopian tube), there are chances of damage to the quality of eggs.
What is the procedure?
Before egg freezing, patients have to undergo screening procedures to identify any signs of infections that can make the process complicated. Once done, the process is carried out and the patient is closely monitored at every step. Egg freezing involves multiple procedures, but it can be broadly divided into three broad parts. These include:
Ovarian stimulation: In this process, synthetic hormones are injected into the patients to stimulate the ovaries and produce multiple eggs rather than a single one. To prevent the chances of premature ovulation, other medications are also injected into the patient. Next, to measure the response and monitor the development of follicles (fluid-filled sacs where eggs mature), blood tests and vaginal ultrasound are also conducted. It usually takes 12-14 days for follicles to develop inside the ovaries.
Egg retrieval: This process is done under sedation, in which an ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina to identify the follicles. A suction device connected to a needle is used to remove the egg from the follicle, and this process can take up to 10-15 cycles to ensure that enough eggs are collected.
Freezing: Once the unfertilised eggs are collected, they are frozen to sub-zero temperatures to preserve them for future use. One of the most common processes of egg freezing is called vitrification. High concentrations of substances are used to prevent the formation of ice crystals during the freezing process.
What are the factors that impact egg freezing?
Before opting for egg freezing methods, it is also essential to understand that various factors can affect the success or failure of egg freezing. These include:
Age: It has been seen that young women produce more fertile eggs that have higher chances of fertilisation in the future.
Sperm quality: To have a healthy and successful pregnancy, it is essential to remember that the quality of sperm is most likely to affect the success rate. A healthy sperm has a higher chance of producing a healthy embryo.
Right clinic: Apart from that, the success rate of clinical procedures also plays a vital role in determining the success of the egg freezing method.
Quantity of eggs: The quantity of eggs increases the chances of pregnancy. A higher quantity of eggs also ensures higher opportunities for conception in the future.
What is the scope of egg freezing for menopausal women?
While egg freezing is a growing trend for women who do not wish to get pregnant in their 20s or 30s, it is also important to note that most women enter menopause (a stage that follows the end of the menstrual cycles) in their late 40s or early 50s. Therefore, in the years before menopause, a woman’s fertility declines, and conceiving becomes problematic in the later years compared to younger women. Thus, though egg freezing gives an option to get pregnant in the later years, it is essential to understand that fresh eggs will always stand a better chance of pregnancy than frozen ones.