All you need to know about egg freezing
Egg freezing is a method of preserving a woman’s fertility so she can try and have children at a later date.
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is one way of preserving a woman’s fertility so she can try to have a family in the future. It involves collecting a woman’s eggs, freezing them and then thawing them later on so they can be used in fertility treatment.
A woman’s chances of conceiving naturally fall as she gets older because the quality and number of her eggs drops. Egg freezing can be an attempt to preserve fertility by freezing the eggs when the woman is young and the eggs are of the highest quality.
Is egg freezing right for me?
You might want to consider freezing your eggs if:
- You have a medical condition or need treatment for a medical condition that will affect your fertility, such as cancer (in this case NHS funding may be available depending on where you live). Fertility may be preserved either by storing eggs, embryos or a combination of both.
- You’re worried about your fertility declining but you’re not ready to have a child or you haven’t found the right partner – this is often called ‘elective egg freezing’.
- You’re at risk of injury or death (for example, you’re a member of the Armed Forces who is being deployed to a war zone).
- If you're a female transitioning to a male, you may want to preserve your fertility before you start hormone therapy or have reconstructive surgery. Both treatments can lead to the partial or total loss of your fertility. Find out more.
- You don’t want to have any remaining embryos that were not used after IVF treatment for ethical reasons.
What does egg freezing involve?
Firstly, you’ll need to be tested for any infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. This has no bearing on whether you can freeze your eggs or not, but is to ensure that affected egg samples are stored separately to prevent contamination of other samples.
You'll then start the IVF process, which usually takes around two to three weeks to complete. Normally this will involve taking drugs to boost your egg production and help the eggs mature. When they’re ready, they’ll be collected whilst you’re under general anaesthetic or sedation.
At this point, instead of mixing the eggs with sperm (as in conventional IVF) a cryoprotectant (freezing solution) will be added to protect the eggs. The eggs will then be frozen either by cooling them slowly or by vitrification (fast freezing) and stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen. Latest statistics show that vitrification is more successful than the slow cooling method.
Most women will have around 15 eggs collected although this isn’t always possible for women with low ovarian reserves (low numbers of eggs). When you want to use them, the eggs will be thawed and those that have survived intact will be injected with your partner’s or donor’s sperm.
How much does egg freezing cost?
The average cost of having your eggs collected and frozen is £3,350, with medication being an added £500-£1,500. Storage costs are extra and tend to be between £125 and £350 per year. Make sure you get a full costed treatment plan from your clinic so you're not caught out by unexpected 'extras'.
Thawing eggs and transferring them to the womb costs an average of £2,500. So, the whole process for egg freezing and thawing costs an average of £7,000-£8,000.
How safe is it?
IVF is mostly very safe, although some women do experience side effects from their fertility drugs. These are usually mild, but in extreme cases women can develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is potentially fatal, so you should familiarise yourself with the symptoms.
The major risk is that it won’t work – read more about success rates below.
It’s also important to know that as you get older, there is more risk of pregnancy-related complications and health problems to both you and your baby.
How successful is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is a rapidly changing field. If you do decide to freeze your eggs, make sure you choose a clinic that has plenty of experience and ask to see their most recent success rates for women your age.
When looking at success rates for frozen eggs, numbers tend to be quite low. The technology for egg freezing has also improved over the years which means older data isn’t comparable to current success rates. We advise patients to look at success rates for fresh IVF cycles with patients using their own eggs in their age band. We consider these rates to be more reliable as there are much higher numbers of fresh embryo transfers each year compared to egg freezing. This information can be found in Choose a Fertility Clinic and in our Fertility trends report.
Most people can store their eggs for a maximum of 55 years
What decisions do I need to make about my eggs?
You’ll need to complete consent forms before you start treatment specifying how you want your eggs to be used. This includes information on:
- how long you want the eggs to be stored for ( you can store your eggs for up to 55 years if you renew your consent to storage every 10 years)
- what should happen to your eggs if you were to die or become unable to make decisions for yourself
- whether the eggs are to be used for your own treatment only, or whether they can be donated for someone else’s treatment, or used for training if you don't want to use them
- any other conditions you may have for the use of your eggs.
You can vary or withdraw consent at any time, either before treatment (embryo transfer) or before the eggs are used in research or training. If this happens, your eggs will not be used.
How long can my eggs be stored for use in treatment?
If your eggs are not used immediately in treatment, you may wish to store your eggs so they can be used for treatment in the future. To be stored eggs are frozen. You will need to think about how far in the future you might want or be able to use stored eggs and the potential costs of storing. This is something you should discuss with your clinic.
On 1 July 2022, the rules on how long you can store eggs, sperm or embryos changed. Before 1 July 2022, most people could usually only store their eggs, sperm or embryos for up to 10 years. Only if they had premature infertility or were going to be having medical treatment which could affect their fertility, could they store for up to 55 years.
The law now permits you to store eggs, sperm or embryos for use in treatment for any period up to a maximum of 55 years from the date that the eggs, sperm or embryos are first placed in storage. However, crucially for storage to lawfully continue you will need to renew your consent every 10 years. You must give your consent on the relevant consent form. You will be contacted by your clinic with relevant information and they should also provide you an offer of counselling before you give consent to storage of your eggs. Your clinic will contact you and provide the consent forms that you need to complete at the appropriate time. It is therefore essential that you keep your contact details up to date with your clinic as you will need to be contacted. If your clinic is unable to contact you your eggs will be at risk of being removed from storage and disposed of.
You don’t have to match the length of storage to any contract for paying for the storage (whether you, or the NHS, is paying). However, if you don’t pay for storage as agreed, the clinic may be within its right to dispose your eggs. Your clinic should have explained this to your clearly when you stored your eggs.
What happens if I do not renew my consent to storage at the appropriate time?
If you do not renew your consent to storage your eggs will be removed from storage and disposed of when they no longer can be lawfully stored.
If you do not wish to renew your consent to storage or to continue storing your eggs then you can withdraw your consent to storage. You will need to contact your clinic and complete the relevant withdrawal of consent form. At this point you may wish to consider donating the eggs that you do not wish to use for your own treatment for training purposes, or for use in someone else’s treatment. You would need to discuss this with your clinic and provide the additional consents where relevant. You can also consider donating your eggs for use in research, helping to increase knowledge about diseases and serious illnesses and potentially develop new treatments. Your clinic will need to give you more information about this and advise you whether this is an option for you.
I stored my eggs before 1 July 2022, what should I do?
If you stored your eggs before 1 July 2022 for up to 10 years but would like to store for longer (up to a maximum of 55 years from the date that the eggs are first placed in storage), you should contact your clinic to discuss whether this is possible and complete additional consent forms where necessary.
If you previously consented to store your eggs for longer than 10 years (up to a maximum of 55 years) because of premature infertility or because you were going to be having medical treatment which could affect your fertility you should contact your clinic as soon as possible as consent will now have to be renewed at each 10 years. You will need to complete additional consent forms in order for your clinic to legally continue to store your eggs (even if the clinic are still storing your eggs within the consent period you originally specified). Your clinic will know the date when you must complete and return the relevant consent form for storage to continue. If you do not renew your consent the eggs will be removed from storage and disposed of.
Keep your contact details up to date
Make sure you tell your clinic if any of your contact details change. Because your clinic needs to contact you about your consent to storage, you should always inform your clinic if your contact details change or if your circumstances change (eg, in the event of separation from your named partner). If your clinic is unable to contact you to obtain your consent, then your eggs will be removed from storage and disposed of when they can no longer be lawfully stored.
What happens when I want to use my eggs?
Eggs that have been frozen and thawed must be fertilised using a fertility treatment called ICSI, as the freezing process makes the outer coating around the eggs tougher and sperm may be unable to penetrate it naturally under IVF.
This will be an extra cost on top of the fee for collecting, freezing and storing your eggs unless you have NHS funding.
What if it doesn’t work?
If none of your frozen eggs lead to a successful pregnancy, depending on your age you might want to try conceiving naturally or start IVF treatment. You can have IVF with donor sperm or eggs (or both) depending on your situation. Find out more about IVF.
You might also want to explore other options for having a family, such as adoption.
What if I don’t use all my eggs during my treatment?
If you have frozen eggs you don’t want to use, you have a number of different options.
Donate them to someone else: You may be eligible to donate your eggs to someone else who very much wants a family.
Donate them to training: You may have eggs that you do not wish to use (for example, because the eggs are not needed, or are not suitable, for treatment). You can consent to your eggs being used and stored for potential use by designated healthcare professionals to practice the techniques involved in fertility treatment on the relevant HFEA consent form. If you give your consent to storing your eggs for training purposes, your clinic may store your eggs for these purposes for up to 55 years from the date that your sperm are first placed in storage.
Put this option last? Donate them to research: Research on eggs, sperm and embryos is invaluable in helping scientists to understand causes of infertility and develop new treatments.
Dispose them: Some people prefer to dispose of their eggs. Eggs that are no longer needed are simply removed from the freezer and allowed to perish naturally in warmer temperatures or water.
How can I find a clinic that offers egg freezing?
You can search for licensed UK clinics on our website here. You'll need to enter your postcode and then update your search criteria to look for clinics offering fertility preservation.