In the realm of assisted reproductive technologies, the journey to parenthood has seen remarkable advancements over the past few decades. Egg and embryo banking are two innovative options that have revolutionized family planning for individuals and couples facing fertility challenges and for those who are interested in delaying pregnancy for professional or personal reasons. We spoke with Dr. Jessica Zolton, Reproductive Endocrinologist and Infertility Specialist at Reproductive Gynecology & Infertility, to learn more.
The Basics of Egg Banking (aka Egg Freezing) and Embryo Banking
While egg banking and embryo banking may sound similar, they are in fact, very different.
Egg Banking: Egg banking, also known as egg freezing or oocyte cryopreservation, involves daily injections of hormonal medication, ultrasound monitoring appointments to evaluate follicle growth, and an egg retrieval which is done under sedation. The eggs are then frozen for future use. This treatment is particularly beneficial for women who are concerned about their ovarian reserve declining with age or those undergoing medical treatments that may impact their fertility.
Embryo Banking: Embryo banking, on the other hand, involves fertilizing eggs with sperm, culturing embryos in the lab, and then freezing those embryos for later use. Freezing embryos is commonly completed in couples who are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) when excess embryos are created. The eggs and embryos can be frozen until ready to be used. There is no concern for the length of time the eggs or embryos are frozen.
Factors to Consider: Egg Freezing vs. Embryo Banking
Flexibility and Control
Egg freezing provides individuals with the flexibility to delay parenthood until they are ready. This is especially advantageous for women who wish to preserve their fertility before the natural decline in egg quantity and quality that comes with age. Embryo banking is an option for couples who wish to store embryos for future pregnancies.
Women who are diagnosed with medical conditions such as cancer or autoimmune diseases may opt for egg banking before undergoing treatments that could harm their eggs. Some women have conditions that may negatively impact their ovarian reserve, such as endometriosis, and may decide to proceed with fertility preservation.
Ethical and Emotional Factors
Embryo banking raises complex ethical and emotional considerations. Some individuals may feel a strong attachment to their embryos and may struggle with the idea of discarding unused embryos. Egg banking eliminates some of these concerns, as it involves the preservation of eggs rather than embryos.
Success Rates and Costs
Success rates and costs vary between egg and embryo banking. Egg freezing is more affordable initially as less steps are required after egg retrieval. However, future costs will include thawing and fertilizing the eggs followed by embryo culture in the lab. Embryo banking is more expensive initially since it involves fertilizing the eggs with sperm and development of an embryo(s). Once the embryo develops, it is then cryopreserved for future use.
One advantage of freezing embryos is their higher survival rate after thawing than cryopreserved eggs. Egg freezing does allow for reproductive freedom in situations where someone is not in a committed relationship or in cases where a relationship ends. The eggs are not fertilized, allowing an individual time until they are ready to conceive with a partner or donor sperm. Not every egg will survive the thaw, fertilize normally, and develop into an embryo. Therefore, many eggs are cryopreserved to increase that chance that there is an embryo that develops. In both egg and embryo freezing, there is no guarantee that an embryo will develop or that an embryo will result in a live birth. Age at the time of treatment is one of the best predictors of future pregnancy.
Making an Informed Decision
Selecting between egg freezing and embryo banking is a deeply personal choice that should be made in consultation with a board-certified Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) specialist. REI specialists work with each individual and/or couple to make the best decision for the reproductive future, factoring in their medical history, fertility evaluation, and reproductive goals.
It’s important to recognize that both egg and embryo banking offer remarkable opportunities for family planning, allowing individuals and couples to take control of their reproductive futures. By discussing your options with a qualified specialist, you can make a well-informed decision that aligns with your values, circumstances, and aspirations.
For personalized guidance and to explore the best option for your individual needs, consult with a reproductive physician. Progyny members should contact their dedicated Patient Care Advocate for more information.