Egg Freezing and IVF: Everything You Need to Know
If you freeze your eggs, if/when you are ready to use them, you will need to undergo a process called in vitro fertilization (IVF). It’s one of the most common types of fertility treatment — in fact, nearly 7000 babies are born through IVF every year in Canada.
Fertility treatment can seem a bit confusing at first. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide to teach you everything you need to know about egg freezing and IVF.
What is Egg Freezing?
Egg freezing is a fertility preservation treatment that allows you to store your eggs now and use them when you’re ready to grow your family. A typical egg freezing cycle will look something like this:
- Pre-Treatment: Before embarking on an egg freezing journey, you will have various tests to assess your fertility potential. Your doctors review your hormone levels and ovarian reserve (the number of eggs in your ovaries) to decide which plan is right for you.
- Stimulation: Once you’re ready to start your cycle, you’ll be given drugs to stimulate your ovaries into growing multiple follicles (sacs in your ovaries that contain eggs). You are also given some medication that temporarily stops you from ovulating. Throughout the stimulation phase, your medical team monitors your follicle development to make sure you’re on track.
- Egg Collection: After being on stimulation drugs for approximately 8-10 days, you will visit your fertility clinic for your egg collection (also known as egg retrieval). During this procedure, your eggs are gently retrieved from your body and stored in an IVF laboratory. You’re sedated during this procedure, so you’ll need someone to take you home afterwards.
- Egg Freezing: Shortly after your egg retrieval, all suitable and mature eggs are vitrified (flash-frozen) and stored in special cryogenic tanks. There’s no time limit on how long you can keep your eggs in storage, and their quality won’t decrease over time.
I’m Ready to Use My Frozen Eggs: What Now?
If you have previously frozen your eggs and are ready to use them, you will work with your fertility clinic to prepare your body for IVF treatment. An embryologist carefully thaws your eggs, which are then fertilized with sperm to create embryos. These embryos develop in the lab and are inserted into your uterus via an embryo transfer. Unlike the first few steps of your egg freezing procedure, you won’t need to take any follicle-stimulating medications or have another egg retrieval.
What is IVF?
IVF (in vitro fertilization) is a type of fertility treatment where eggs are fertilized by sperm in a special laboratory to create embryos. The initial stages of IVF are very similar to egg freezing, however, you won’t need to go through the retrieval process again, since your eggs were previously gathered. The differences start once your eggs enter the IVF laboratory:
- Fertilization: All suitable mature eggs are thawed and fertilized with sperm (either your partner’s or a donor’s) to create embryos. Embryo development is closely monitored by an embryologist, and you receive regular updates about their progress.
Embryo Transfer: Once the embryos are ready, you have your embryo transfer. This is a quick, non-surgical procedure (less than 10 minutes) where the doctor uses a catheter to insert the embryo(s) into your uterus. Next, you take hormonal medications until your pregnancy test.
Pregnancy Test: Around 2 weeks after your embryo transfer, you have a blood test to check for the pregnancy hormone hCG. This informs you if the embryo transfer was successful. If so, your journey to parenthood begins.
What are the Similarities and Differences Between IVF and Egg Freezing?
|Assigned females at birth undergoing IVF and egg freezing both take stimulatory drugs to develop multiple follicles in their ovaries.
|IVF strives to get patients pregnant right away. Egg freezing enables a patient to get pregnant later using their own eggs (retrieved at an earlier date).
|IVF and egg freezing both involve an egg collection (aka egg retrieval). However, if you’re using frozen eggs, you will skip this step when you undergo IVF, since you will have already completed it. You can choose your sperm source when you use your frozen eggs.
|IVF involves fertilizing eggs with sperm to create embryos. Egg freezing does not require any sperm as no embryos are formed (only when you decide to use them).
|Mature eggs are required for both egg freezing and IVF since they have the best chance of being fertilized (either right away for IVF or at a later date when egg freezing).
|Patients having traditional IVF treatment usually have an embryo transfer a few days after their egg collection. However, those who have frozen their eggs may wait many years before they have their embryo transfer.
|The success of both IVF and egg freezing is based on many factors, such as age, medical history, and egg quality.
|From start to finish, a cycle of egg freezing takes around 2 weeks to complete. A cycle of IVF could take upwards of 3 weeks.
Egg Freezing vs Embryo Freezing – Which is Better?
Eggs are the reproductive cells (gametes) that have half the genetic information (chromosomes) required to create a baby. When you fertilize an egg with sperm, it becomes an embryo.
An embryo has a full set of chromosomes and can grow into a baby once it implants into a uterus. If you’re looking to preserve your fertility, you have the option of either freezing eggs or embryos.
If you choose to freeze your eggs, this will happen shortly after egg collection. If you decide to freeze embryos, this will usually happen after 5-6 days of being cultured in the laboratory. After this amount of time, the embryos develop into blastocysts.
Modern advances mean that both techniques have excellent survival rates. Therefore, both options are viable when looking to preserve your fertility.
At EVOLVE, we freeze eggs rather than embryos to leave options open for future relationships and family building. If you do an IVF cycle and embryos are frozen, and you’re no longer with the partner whose sperm was used, those embryos become unusable — unless the sperm provider provides permission.
While it may seem complicated at first, we’re here to walk you through all your options. That way, you can make informed decisions about your future fertility. Speak to an EVOLVE nurse today and get your questions answered.