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Slow freezing, vitrification, “flash” freezing, IVF, egg freezing—sorting through all the different terms and acronyms can be enough to give anyone a headache. You shouldn’t need a medical degree to understand your fertility options (though if you do have one—good for you, girl!). We’re here to help.

In a previous blog post, we talked about the difference between slow freezing and vitrification. This time, we’re going to discuss the difference between egg freezing and in vitro fertilization, or IVF. While both treatments involve extracting your eggs, there are some crucial differences between the procedures.

Egg freezing (or oocyte cryopreservation)

1. The doctor prescribes hormone injections to stimulate egg production so the woman’s body produces multiple eggs.

2. The doctor collects the eggs from the ovaries in a short surgical procedure called an egg retrieval.

3. In the lab, the newly retrieved eggs are immediately frozen using vitrification, a superior cryopreservation technique (check out our previous post to learn more). Once frozen, they are shipped to a storage facility where they’ll be held until she’s ready to use them. That’s it—she’s done for now!

The process takes about 14 days in total.

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IVF (in vitro fertilization)

In contrast, the process of IVF involves immediately combining eggs and sperm together in a laboratory to create an embryo that is then implanted back into the uterus, in an attempt to get the patient pregnant right away.

The first two steps are the same or similar to what’s required for egg freezing, explained above, but the third step makes all the difference.

3. In the lab, the newly retrieved eggs are fertilized with sperm (a partner’s or a donor’s), forming embryos. (“In vitro” means the fertilization happens “in glass,” as in a petri dish or test tube in a lab.) An embryologist monitors the embryos as they develop.

4. When the embryos are ready, the patient undergoes an embryo transfer, a non-surgical procedure in which the doctor uses a catheter to insert the embryo(s) into the uterus.

5. Within two weeks, the patient will take a blood pregnancy test (which is more accurate and sensitive than a home test) to determine if the procedure was effective.

This completes one IVF cycle. In total, it takes about a month.

Egg freezing means options for the future

While during IVF, a doctor implants the fertilized egg back into the uterus within days of the egg retrieval in hopes of achieving a pregnancy right away, egg freezing gives you the option to use those eggs to get pregnant at a later point in time. When or if you decide you’re ready to start a family, your eggs will be thawed in a lab. Then, they’ll undergo the final steps of IVF outlined above—they’ll be fertilized and transferred to your uterus. (Learn more about how frozen egg are used.)

Freezing eggs instead of using them immediately won’t decrease their quality or the chance you’ll get pregnant—studies have shown that ongoing pregnancy rates are roughly the same between frozen and “fresh” eggs, confirming the “noninferiority” of frozen eggs.

Egg freezing allows women to use the healthy, young eggs they have now when they’re ready to get pregnant later. Pretty amazing, huh?

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