Leigh-Anne Pinnock has revealed she began to freeze her eggs at 28 after a doctor's appointment lead to a discovery about her fertility.
In an interview with Glamour the Little Mix singer, 32, who welcomed twins in 2021 with husband Andre Gray, was discussing how learning that she had a low egg count impacted her future plans.
"They told me I had a low egg count, which totally freaked me out," she told the publication. "So, I started the process of freezing my eggs, just to be safe."
At the time, Leigh-Anne said that while her partner was keen for them to start a family, she was enjoying her career with the band.
"We were at the height of our career and everyone knew I wanted children, but I remember thinking to myself, 'I can’t have children now'.
But having learned of her low egg reserve in an appointment to get her fertility checked, the couple decided to fast-track their plans for parenthood.
The singer went on to describe the egg-freezing process as "gruelling", explaining that pregnancy also isn’t guaranteed, so it is a decision, which requires a lot of thought.
However, after some advice from a make-up artist "not to wait" to start a family, Leigh-Anne stopped the egg freezing process and fell pregnant with twins shortly afterwards.
Read more: Dramatic rise in the number of women freezing their eggs (PA, 4-min read)
Egg freezing: the facts
There has been a rise in the number of women freezing their eggs in the UK.
A report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) found that more people than ever are undergoing procedures, with egg and embryo freezing the fastest-growing fertility treatments in Britain.
Egg-freezing and storage increased from 2,576 cycles in 2019 to 4,215 in 2021 (a 64% rise), while embryo storage also rose.
What does egg freezing involve?
The HEFA says the egg freezing process typically takes between two and three weeks. A woman is first tested for any infectious diseases, like HIV.
An HIV+ patient can still freeze their eggs, however, they must be stored away from others’ to prevent contamination.
They then start IVF, which involves up to two weeks of hormonal injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs.
When ready, the eggs are collected under general anaesthetic or sedation. Most women have around 15 eggs collected, however, it may be less for those with naturally low numbers.
Unlike IVF, the eggs are not then mixed with sperm but are instead added to a freezing solution. Vitrification, or fast freezing, may be more effective than the traditional method of cooling eggs slowly, research suggests.
Eggs frozen "electively" are then stored in liquid nitrogen.
How long can you store your eggs?
The rules on how long you can store eggs, sperm or embryos has recently changed. Before 1 July 2022, most people could usually only store their eggs, sperm or embryos for up to 10 years. Only if they had premature infertility or were going to be having medical treatment which could affect their fertility, could they store for up to 55 years.
The law now permits you to store eggs, sperm or embryos for use in treatment for any period up to a maximum of 55 years from the date that the eggs, sperm or embryos are first placed in storage.
However, crucially for storage to lawfully continue you will need to renew your consent every 10 years.
When ready for use, the eggs are thawed. Surviving ones are then injected with either a woman’s partner’s sperm or that of a donor, via a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
ICSI is necessary due to freezing making the outer coating of eggs tougher, with sperm being less able to penetrate the cell during IVF.
If fertilisation takes place, the embryo is then transferred into the womb in the hope it will lead to a healthy pregnancy.
Watch: Kourtney Kardashian reveals what people don't understand about freezing eggs
When to freeze your eggs
When it comes to freezing your eggs, age is the single most important factor for success, according to the HFEA.
The organisation’s report Should I freeze my eggs?, states if a woman has the procedure at under 35, she will be more likely to conceive using these eggs than if she tried to become pregnant naturally, particularly from 40 and over.
To maximises their chances of success, older women often use frozen donor eggs rather than their own.
In the UK, it is illegal for a donor to be paid anything more than expenses, which are capped at £750 per donation 'cycle' (a donation cycle is one complete round of treatment, at the end of which the eggs are collected and donated).
The donor has no rights or responsibilities in raising or financially supporting the child and is not mentioned on the birth certificate.
When the child reaches 18, however, they can find out their donor’s name, date of birth and address, and make contact if they wish.
Read more: Major breakthrough on fertility treatment for lesbian couples (Yahoo Life UK, 9-min read)
Is egg freezing safe?
Egg freezing is generally considered very safe, according to the HFEA. Some women may experience mild side effects from the hormonal injections, like tenderness at the site of the injection.
A third (33%) of those having IVF develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), with just over 1% of cases being moderate or severe, Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) statistics show.
OHSS comes about when the body overreacts to the fertility drugs used during IVF. The overstimulated ovaries swell and release chemicals into the blood.
Fluid from the blood vessels then leaks into the abdomen, and even sometimes into the heart and lungs. A small number of deaths have been reported, the RCOG reports.
Mild cases usually get better on their own, however, if a woman is vomiting, passing little urine or battling chest pain, she should go to hospital.
There is no specific treatment for OHSS, however, anti-sickness drugs and IV drips can replace fluids lost by vomiting.
The cost of freezing your eggs
A select few are eligible for egg freezing on the NHS. For example, cancer patients about to start chemotherapy may be offered the procedure depending on where they live, according to the HFEA.
The rest usually have to foot the bill themselves, which can be costly.
According to the HFEA, the average cost of having your eggs collected and frozen is £3,350, with medication being an added £500-£1,500.
Storage costs are extra and tend to be between £125 and £350 per year.
Thawing eggs and transferring them to the womb costs an average of £2,500. So, the whole process for egg freezing and thawing costs an average of £7,000-£8,000.