Nowadays, some companies health insurance plans include coverage for egg freezing, or oocyte preservation. This form of fertility insurance for women who want to delay childbearing has grown in popularity since its "experimental" label was removed in 2012. But as it moves into the mainstream, is it really producing healthy kids?
Health officials say absolutely yes! The data on the matter is quite reassuring, particularly for women for whom the alternative might be not to have a child from their own eggs.
Oocyte preservation has been around since the 1980s and has gained popularity in recent years as many millennials, especially working women, delay parenthood.
In the procedure, a woman's ovaries are stimulated using hormones, then eggs are harvested from the ovaries. (If that sounds similar to in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which is used when a couple has had trouble conceiving, it is.) The extracted eggs are then preserved in specialized vials either through a slow-freeze or a flash-freeze process. The eggs are then stored in a cryopreservation facility, or egg bank. Once it's time to use them, they are thawed and fertilized as in the IVF process, and then inserted into the woman's womb.
Unfortunately, success is not guaranteed: The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that only between 2 and 12 percent of frozen eggs yield a baby later.
The good news, though, is this: oocyte preservation allows women to use eggs from a younger version of themselves--versions who, perhaps, haven't yet had cancer treatment, found a long-term partner or been ready for pregnancy. For this procedure, it's best for a woman to freeze her eggs by the time she's 35 years old to ensure the highest rate of success.
But what about the babies born with the help of frozen eggs? Since the technology is so new, there isn't a lot of data. There's no registry of births achieved using frozen eggs, and very few studies have focused on outcomes beyond pregnancy.
One 2009 study that tracked 900 babies born using frozen eggs found no difference in the rate of birth abnormalities compared with the rate for babies born with fresh eggs. Most other studies have been much smaller, tracking just a handful of babies; they show outcomes similar to babies born using traditional IVF.
Tracking usually ends in infancy. Tens of thousands of babies have been born using the procedure, but there's no way of knowing how they're doing as they grow up.