Couples and individuals have long relied on frozen embryos (whether they are their own or they have been donated) to start their intended family when the time is right. Freezing embryos (an egg that has already been fertilized) offers many significant benefits and has a high success rate.
But this begs the question, how long can embryos remain viable once they have been frozen.
Well, the jury is still out to determine an actual number of years; however, in October, 2022, a pair of healthy twins were born using 30-year-old embryos, setting a new record. Previous records have included a live birth with a 27-year old embryo (in 2020) and a 24-year-old embryo.
This new record shows great promise regarding the longevity and viability of frozen embryos.
The Process of Embryo Freezing
Once an egg has been fertilized, it can be frozen indefinitely with a process called cryopreservation. This can be done for a number of reasons. Maybe you have remaining embryos after an IVF cycle, or maybe you and your partner are not in a position to start your family now, but want to keep the option, especially if you are reaching an older age.
The embryo is frozen within the first five days after fertilization (at any stage of development). Embryo freezing is done in an IVF lab in specialized containers called freezing straws. These containers are filled with a small volume of special liquid and a freezing solution called cryoprotectant. During the freezing process, the embryo is gradually brought to a temperature of about -196 ºC (-321 ºF) and submerged inside storage tanks.
These tanks are usually filled with Liquid Nitrogen which helps maintain the low temperatures until it is ready for implantation. Then, the embryo is thawed and placed in the womb whenever the woman is ready, usually timed according to the menstrual cycle.
Benefits of Embryo Freezing
Besides allowing for the possibility of a donated embryo, this process helps protect fertility for many women facing reproductive barriers, including:
- Women who are advancing in age
- Those who are undergoing gender transition
- Women with infertility issues
- Women who are preparing to undergo fertility-altering treatments like chemotherapy and radiation
- Before military deployment
- Other reasons like education or career pursuits
With the advancement of technology, the chances of successful embryo freezing have increased exponentially.
Am I a Good Candidate for Embryo Freezing?
Embryo freezing is most prevalently used by women looking to put off childbearing until it is more convenient. In our experience, the best time to preserve your embryos (or pre-fertilized eggs) is before you are 35, but you can still do it well into your late 40s; however, the success rates do decrease with age.
Candidates should be in good health to increase successes.
How Much Does it Cost to Freeze Embryos?
Normally, health insurance covers do not settle the cost of embryo freezing, so all payments must be made out of pocket. The total amount usually depends on the cost of freezing, storage cost, and duration of storage. Please note that some insurance covers can cover assisted reproductive techniques, so you should consult your insurance provider for further details.
Is There an Age Limit for Freezing Embryos?
Generally, the younger we are, the more fertile we are, so if you are looking to freeze embryos or unfertilized eggs, the earlier, the better.
The same goes for implanting eggs after freezing; the younger you are, the better your chances of carrying a pregnancy to term with little to no complications.
How Long Does it Take to Recover From Egg Retrieval Surgery?
Downtime after an egg retrieval surgery is usually about a day. You may experience soreness and tenderness around the vagina and lower abdomen, but that shouldn't be any greater than regular menstrual cramping. If you experience extreme pain, visit your reproductive specialist immediately.
Is There a Way to Measure the Quality of Eggs Before Extraction?
No, genetic tests on eggs are only possible when the eggs have been extracted. However, there is a direct correlation between age and egg quality; specifically, the younger you are, the better genetic quality your eggs are likely to have.
Expert Embryo Freezing Clinics
Freezing embryos offers a multitude of benefits for individuals and couples alike who may be facing reproductive barriers. With recent breakthroughs in technology, the viability and longevity of frozen embryos continue to show great promise, as demonstrated by the recent birth of healthy twins using 30-year-old embryos. At Reproductive Fertility Center, our double board-certified physician, Dr. Peyman Saadat, and our experienced team have been providing fertility services for over 20 years. If you are considering embryo freezing or have any questions about the process, please don't hesitate to contact us to schedule a consultation. Our team is dedicated to helping you achieve your family goals with compassion and expertise.