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Egg freezing: A chance to delay pregnancy till you are ready for it.

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Women today has much more to live for – work, family, a budding social life, learning new skills, nurturing a hobby, what have you. Often all these activities push motherhood at the bottom of her to-do list of life. But not anymore. Egg freezing surfaces as a boon to today’s new women.

What is egg freezing?

Egg freezing simply means to extract healthy eggs from the ovary of a woman and freeze them for future use. ‘Often it is believed that a woman’s biological clock stops ticking in her late 30s to early 40s. Despite the fact, we see a trend of today’s emancipated woman attempting pregnancy late in the day. This attitude poses a major challenge in achieving healthy pregnancies. Fortunately with the advent of the novel technology of egg freezing, women have the unprecedented chance to start or expand her family even after the fragile age of 35,’ says Dr Nandita Palshetkar, gynecologist and IVF specialist attached to Lilavati hospital, Mumbai and D Y Patil Hospital, Navi Mumbai. This technique helps women to slow down their biological clock and store their eggs until they are ready for conception. Though one can’t stop the age clock but freezing the eggs at a younger age gives you a chance to embrace motherhood when she decides.

How is it done?

Even though it sounds simple but it isn’t as easy as putting your leftovers into the freezer. Opting for egg freezing means that you would have to undergo a medical process in the hospital or a clinic, ‘Eggs are removed surgically and then frozen either by cooling down slowly or by vitrification,’ informs Dr Palshetkar. Recent studies have shown that eggs frozen by the vitrification or fast freezing process increases the success rates of conceiving. This is because in the freeze-thaw process of vitrification the eggs stand to have a comparatively higher chance of survival. The process of egg freezing is as follows:

  • Checking for the right candidate: If you wish to go for egg freezing you need to be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C. Once your reports show all is fine with you, the next step would be egg extraction.
  • Extraction of eggs: A woman is given medication to produce multiple eggs. Guided by ultrasound, needles are used to extract eggs from the ovary. This is a surgical process.
  • Identification of eggs: Eggs which are in fluid state when extracted are poured in a dish and withdrawn for freezing.
  • Preparing for freezing: These eggs are then frozen at a temperature of -196 C in liquid nitrogen and liquid cryoprotectant which ensures long term storage. ‘During this period, the woman has the authority to do whatever she wants do with her eggs. Use or donate them to help another woman achieve pregnancy,’ says Dr Palshetkar.

Who can opt for it?

Women in their late twenties who wish to delay motherhood can opt for the process, the sooner the better as you get to preserve eggs that are viable. Apart from that, ‘Women undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer are at risk as these radiations and chemicals are highly toxic for the eggs, leaving behind only a few viable eggs. Through egg freezing, healthy eggs can be extracted prior to the treatments protecting them for future conception. Additionally, there are sections of women with a family history of early menopause, where the eggs start depleting at an early age and freezing thus becomes extremely important,’ says Dr Palshetkar. (Read: Other complications of infertility treatments.)

How many eggs can be frozen during the procedure?

Whilst deciding the number of eggs to be stored is a matter of personal choice, it is advisable for a woman to freeze about 10 eggs per pregnancy attempt to improve the success rates. Most women, under 38 years of age can harvest 10 -20 eggs per cycle. Freezing 10 out of these would mean only 7 would survive the thawing process, of which 5 -6 are anticipated to fertilize and become embryos. The best 3 -4 embryos can then be transferred in women up to 38 years of age. Beyond which even with frozen eggs you would face

How does the frozen egg help in the process of conceiving?

Once you decide that you are ready for pregnancy, the eggs frozen would be thawed and fertilized. Each egg would be fertilized by injecting a needle containing a single sperm of your partner. Then the fertilized eggs would be put back into the uterus as an embryo. Embryos are implanted into the uterus using a catheter.

What are its limitations?

‘The process of egg freezing has proven to be advantageous in several situations. Approximately 2,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs until date globally. Research has clearly stated that these children have no increased rates of birth defects as compared to the general population. Moreover, there are no increased rates of chromosomal defects between embryos derived from frozen eggs as compared to embryos derived from fresh eggs,’ says Dr Palshetkar.

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