Fertility Preservation for Women
What is Embryo Freezing and What Does It Cost?
Thanks to rapid technological advances, fertility preservation is now a viable option for women to consider if they might have trouble conceiving in the future, due to various reasons.
Fertility preservation for women refers to the process of freezing a woman’s eggs, her embryos, or, potentially, her ovarian tissue, opening the possibility of conceiving in the future, should she be unable to conceive on her own at that time.
In this article, we discover why a woman would want to preserve her fertility for a future date, find out more about embryo freezing as an option for female fertility preservation, and look at the process involved and what it will cost.
Why Preserve Your Fertility?
More and more women today are facing medical conditions and treatments that may affect their ability to conceive a child in the future. For example, certain medications may damage a woman’s ovaries or the quality of her eggs, as will diseases such as endometriosis. In addition, the surgical removal of ovaries, as well as chemotherapy or radiation therapy can destroy fertility.
Modern women are also increasingly delaying starting a family for numerous reasons. As the likelihood of conceiving peaks at around age 30 and then decreases, with an accelerated decline after age 35 and a rapid decline after age 40, fertility preservation is also an option for these women who want to delay childbearing to a later age.
Egg freezing is often the suitable solution for many situations. You can read more about that in our article Fertility Preservation for Women – What is Egg Freezing and What Does It Cost?
Embryo freezing is also an option to consider. An embryo is an egg that has been fertilised by a sperm and thanks to modern technology called vitrification, it is possible to freeze embryos for later use. It is ideal for women undergoing fertility treatment and who have surplus embryos.
Embryo Freezing and Storage for Fertility Preservation
Freezing embryos – or embryo cryopreservation as it is also called – is used in fertility programs to freeze and store embryos from an assisted reproductive cycle (IVF, ICSI, PICSI) for future use.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF)and egg donation cycles often result in more embryos than are required. In many cases, there are spare good quality embryos that are suitable to be cryopreserved. Following IVF treatment, many couples choose to freeze their spare embryos for use at a later stage.
Not every embryo implants to become a pregnancy in natural conception. The same is true in assisted reproduction through procedures such as IVF and ICSI – not every embryo implants to become a pregnancy. For this reason, not every IVF treatment is successful, and women may need to undergo more than one cycle of treatment and, in many cases, several.
The technique of freezing embryos allows couples to use these frozen embryos should their first attempt at achieving pregnancy from IVF fail, or if they would like to have more children in the future.
Embryo freezing allows for the storage of unused embryos for an indefinite amount of time. At a future time, a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) can be performed in a simple, short procedure.
Embryo freezing is also ideal for women at risk of hyperstimulation syndrome – a possible negative reaction to certain fertility medication. It is also used if a woman has poor uterine lining (endometrium) at the time of a fresh embryo transfer – the embryos are vitrified instead and safely stored, ready to be transferred in a more favourable cycle.
Today, embryo freezing has become a fundamental part of every fertility clinic’s IVF programme, particularly when there is an emphasis is on singleton pregnancies.
The Embryo Freezing Process
Embryo freezing is done through advanced technology called vitrification – an ultra-rapid method to freeze embryos instead of the traditional slow freezing process. Because it eliminates any crystal formation, vitrification yields better post-thaw survival rates and higher pregnancy and live birth rates from frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles.
Nevertheless, some embryos may not survive the freezing process. This is related to the quality of the embryos itself.
For this reason, only good quality day 5 or 6 embryos are vitrified and stored at -196ºC. When reaching the vitrified stage and being stored at -196°C, the embryos are relatively safe from damage and the recovering rate after warming is 98%.
Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET)
Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) is the transfer of frozen embryos that have been vitrified in an earlier procedure.
A frozen embryo transfer can be performed in either stimulated or unstimulated cycles. During an unstimulated natural cycle, the embryo(s) are replaced when implantation is most likely.
With a stimulated cycle, you will take medication for the down-regulation of your ovaries to prevent any eggs from being released. After a scan on day two or three of your period, you will start taking medication to prepare your womb for the embryo transfer. If a second ultrasound scan at day twelve confirms that your endometrium is of the appropriate thickness, progesterone is introduced for five days and your transfer is booked.
Most of the patients scheduled for FET would receive 1 to 2 embryos on the day of transfer. The process is not different from a cycle with fresh embryos.
The frozen embryos are warmed on the equivalent of Day 5 in either a natural or controlled cycle. Two hours after warming the viability of the embryos can be identified. Our embryology team will inform you of how well your embryos have survived the thawing process and if they are of good enough quality for your transfer to take place.
If they are, the embryos are transferred after an incubation period of 4 to 6 hours. The embryo transfer is similar to a smear test and causes only minimal discomfort. A culture medium containing one or two embryos is loaded into a thin catheter with a syringe on the end. The doctor carefully guides the catheter through the vagina and cervix, and deposits the embryo(s) into the uterus, where implantation hopefully begins three to four days later.
Pregnancy testing is performed 10 to 12 days later with a sensitive blood assay for HCG hormone after a fresh or frozen blastocyst transfer. The pregnancy rate for a frozen embryo transfer is similar to a fresh cycle. The average clinical pregnancy rate up to date for a frozen embryo transfer is 46-52%.
What Does It Cost To Freeze Embryos?
We invite you to contact us for an updated cost for fertility preservation by clicking here or phoning us on +27 (11) 463 2244. We would also be happy to answer your questions about fertility preservation.
Our team at Medfem Fertility Clinic has extensive experience in embryo freezing. We have been preserving women’s fertility by freezing embryos since 2007 and since then we have seen a considerable increase in embryo survival rates and substantially higher pregnancy rates after frozen embryo transfer procedures.
With modern freezing techniques and greater experience, results from the transfer of frozen and thawed embryos are now almost as good as those with fresh embryos, so a store of frozen embryos can significantly add to the likelihood of your pregnancy – and that is an invaluable advantage on your journey to parenthood.