Embryo freezing is a common practice that takes place during the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process. During the process, a female patient takes fertility drugs to stimulate egg production in the ovaries and after extraction is combined with sperm to fertilize and create an embryo for implantation.
In some cases, multiple cycles are required before a procedure results in pregnancy, so fertilized embryos are cryogenically preserved to be used later in a treatment or donated. Embryo freezing is an ideal option for women who are trying to become pregnant through IVF, as they will be available for later cycles, as needed. The procedure also allows women who are scheduled to undergo a medical treatment, such as chemotherapy, to preserve the ability to have children at a later point.
Women undergoing IVF treatment often use embryo freezing as part of the overall procedure, as multiple cycles are sometimes needed to result in a pregnancy; however, women also have the option of freezing embryos to preserve fertility for a later time in life and don’t need to go through the IVF procedure.
The number of embryos used during a cycle is dependent on the patient and doctor. Using multiple embryos in a single cycle increases the odds that one will result in pregnancy, but there are cases in which all the embryos developed and resulted in twins or multiple sets.
Patients are given fertility medicine to stimulate the ovaries and increase egg production. After careful monitoring and transvaginal ultrasounds, the eggs are retrieved through a procedure called follicular aspiration. A thin needle is inserted into the ovary to extract the egg with a suction device and placed in an environmentally protected chamber. Since the medicine creates more than one egg, multiple eggs are taken for possible future use.
The egg is combined with sperm to create the embryo – the egg is often fertilized within several hours and implanted into the womb within 72 hours. Depending on the fertility doctor and the patient, one or more embryos are implanted and the rest are frozen for either use at a later date or donated.
Embryos used in freezing are cooled to room temperature and water is replaced with antifreeze and placed in a vial, where it freezes at a slow rate to prevent damage and ice shards. Then, the vials are placed in a tank and stored in liquid nitrogen until needed.
The patient has a say in what happens to the frozen embryos. Consent forms require documentation regarding the following situations:
The length of time in which the embryos may be frozen
What should be done with embryos if the patient is medically unable to speak for herself, or one of the partners dies before they are used
Whether the embryos may be used for research or treatment
For anyone struggling to have children, the medical advances of in vitro fertilization and embryo freezing makes it possible to get pregnant. The standard length of time in which embryos are frozen is ten years, meaning patients can decide early in life to donate healthy eggs for later use or save embryos during various cycles of in vitro fertilization during the lengthy process.
While embryo freezing is an ideal option, the chance of a successful pregnancy is reduced simply due to the freezing and thawing process. Fresh embryos usually come with a higher rate of full term pregnancies. An important factor to remember, the length of time in which the embryos are frozen and thawed do not have an impact on whether the patient will become pregnant.
Cost of Embryo Freezing
Aside from the cost of in vitro fertilization, embryo freezing has monthly costs to hold embryos in a fertility bank. Storage fees range from $250 USD to $1,200 USD depending on the length of time embryos are being kept.
Around the world, embryo cryopreservation is substantially less. In India and Asia, overall costs are a quarter of the yearly fees found in the United States.
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