Whether you’re about to go through the egg retrieval process for egg donation, egg freezing, or a full in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle, you’re likely going to have some questions. While this procedure seems intimidating to a lot of folks, it’s actually not as scary as it seems. Understanding how the process works and what to look out for can help ease some of those pre-procedure jitters, so let’s break it all down.
Questions for your provider
Knowing what’s coming is half the battle when it comes to medical procedures.Here we’ve listed some great questions to ask your provider before your egg retrieval.
- Can you walk me through the timeline for the egg retrieval, from when I give myself the trigger shot (a medication sometimes used to help your ovaries release mature eggs) to the recovery room after the procedure?
- What anesthesia options are available?
- What is your best estimate of how many eggs you think you’ll be able to retrieve?
- What are the most common side effects you see after the procedure? What do you recommend I do to manage those symptoms if I have them?
- Is there anything you recommend I do leading up to the procedure to minimize my risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)?
- When and how will the clinic update me about the eggs after the procedure (e.g., phone, email, app, etc.)?
- How can I reach your clinic if I have questions or concerns?
- Who do I contact if I have a problem outside the clinic’s normal hours?
Depending on your particular situation, you may need to ask more questions, but this is a good place to start.
For egg retrievals, an anesthesiologist will be on site to provide your sedation. Most clinics use monitored sedation that is propofol-based. This is not the same as general anesthesia, which is used for longer and more invasive procedures and requires a breathing tube. With monitored sedation, a medication is given through the veins (IV) to make sure you feel no pain or discomfort during the procedure. No breathing tube is used, so you’ll be able to breathe on your own. This is commonly called “twilight” sedation—think of it as a really great nap!
Unfortunately for some folks, nausea can be a side effect of the anesthesia. If you’ve had anesthesia before and you know you’re prone to nausea, make sure to let the anesthesiologist know about it. There are a few other ways to help manage nausea due to anesthesia.
- Stay hydrated. Postop nausea is sometimes due to dehydration, usually because you haven’t had anything to eat or drink before your surgery. Dehydration leads to low blood pressure, which can make you even more queasy. As soon as you’re able to after your procedure, start rehydrating. Staying really hydrated up until the night before your procedure can also help.
- Take anti-nausea medicines. Some over-the-counter (OTC) options like antacids, ginger root tablets, and others can be helpful for mild to moderate nausea. Ask your doctor before using any of these though! Some medications can’t be taken together. If the OTC options don’t help, you can also ask your doctor about prescription options.
- Avoid activities that require too much movement or concentration. Things that involve concentration or changes in your perception (like reading or riding in a car) will often make symptoms worse. Closing your eyes and keeping your room dimly lit can help calm your nervous system while the anesthesia wears off fully.
You can learn even more about all the anesthesia and sedation options here.
Most clinics will go through their specific requirements and recommendations at your preoperative visit. The most important thing to avoid is having anything to eat or drink the day of the procedure.
A common question people ask is whether they need to shave before their egg retrieval. The answer is no—shaving (or not shaving) does not impact the procedure at all so come as you are! If you prep anything, it should be everything you need for when you come back home to recover. Here’s a checklist of things to have ready on the day of your procedure:
- Comfortable, loose clothes
- Heating pad(s)
- OTC medicines like Tylenol, stool softeners, and anti-nausea
- Plenty of fluids and electrolytes (water, Gatorade/Powerade, coconut water, etc.)
- Activities like audiobooks, movies, etc. that don’t require too much concentration
- Someone to take you home
Is egg retrieval painful?
This is the most common question we get and it’s totally understandable! Thankfully, with the anesthesia that’s given, you will be asleep so won’t feel or remember anything during the procedure.
What exactly happens during an egg retrieval?
Alright, let’s get into how this procedure actually works. First, the doctor will use a transvaginal ultrasound to find your ovaries, which should by now have clusters of tiny follicles. Your doctor will then gently guide a long needle through an opening in the ultrasound probe and into the vaginal wall. This needle is attached to a catheter and the catheter is attached to test tubes labeled with your name and unique patient identification number. One by one, the eggs will be drawn out of the ovaries using light suction and collected in the test tubes. These test tubes are then handed off to the embryologist, an expert in the science of oocyte cryopreservation (the technical term for egg freezing).
Once all the eggs that can be retrieved are collected, the doctor will remove the needle. They will examine your ovaries and your vaginal wall to make sure there isn’t too much bleeding. It’s normal for these sites to bleed a little–they did just have a needle inserted into them. Typically, your doctor will be prepared to apply pressure or, rarely, to use a cauterizing (heated) agent to control any bleeding.
That’s it! You’ll leave with no stitches or scars. Pretty cool, huh?
How long does an egg retrieval take?
The process described above may sound really complicated but in reality, it only takes about 15 minutes. That’s less time than most people spend scrolling TikTok while on the toilet.
Immediately after the egg retrieval, you’ll definitely be a little groggy as you recover from the anesthesia. You’ll usually be told to rest for 30–60 minutes in the recovery area, where someone will monitor you as you wake up from the anesthesia. Most anesthesia takes about 24 hours to be fully out of your system, but you’ll feel close to normal by the time you leave the office.
During your recovery time, your doctor will come in to let you know how many eggs were successfully retrieved. They will also let you know how many eggs were deemed mature by the embryologist. What does that mean? Well, let’s go way back to middle school biology. Mature eggs have reached the metaphase II (M2) stage and are therefore considered to have “meiotic competence”. Meiosis is the process of cutting the number of chromosomes and genetic material by half so that when it combines with sperm, the resulting embryo has the proper number of chromosomes and all the genetic material it’s supposed to have.
Immature eggs are not capable of fertilizing because they are not “meiotically competent”. However, sometimes it is possible to have eggs mature in the lab (in vitro maturation or IVM) and then fertilize them. While this isn’t popular now, we do ask our partner clinics to freeze immature eggs for when this technology is more widespread in the future.
In our Split program, where you freeze for free when donating half, you keep half of the mature eggs PLUS 100% of any immature eggs if they are retrieved and vitrified.
Common side effects and how to manage them
After everything is said and done, the most common side effects people have are constipation, bloating, cramping, spotting, and pain. Rest, over the counter medicines like Tylenol and stool softeners, and staying hydrated are usually all that’s needed for these symptoms. Heating pads can also be really helpful for those who have cramping or pain. If you have any bleeding, make sure to use pads—not tampons—so you can monitor the amount.
The majority of people are back to their normal activities by the next day, but it’s recommended that you go home and relax for the rest of that day with another adult with you, just in case. You also should not drive for at least 24 hours after your procedure.
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic or other medications depending on your case. You may be asked to avoid sexual intercourse for a period of time or avoid things like taking a bath. Make sure to follow any specific instructions your provider gives you for your recovery.
If you notice any of the symptoms below, report them to your healthcare provider asap:
- Temperature above 101 F
- Severe abdominal pain or swelling
- Severe nausea or vomiting that doesn’t go away
- Heavy vaginal bleeding (soaking through a pad in an hour; some light bleeding is normal)
- Difficulty urinating, or painful urination
- Fainting or dizziness
If and when you decide to pursue egg freezing, Freeze by Co is here to help you every step of the way. As mentioned earlier, our Split program allows those who qualify to freeze their eggs for free! In a Split cycle, you donate half of the eggs retrieved to a family that can’t otherwise conceive and freeze the remaining half for yourself, so you get half the mature eggs and all the immature ones.
Don’t want to donate? We got you! You can still participate in the Keep program, where you’re able to freeze your eggs and keep them all for yourself, on your timeline. In addition, you’ll have access to our online support community. This is a valuable resource that lets you engage with other people freezing their eggs at the same time!
The best way to feel comfortable and confident about your egg retrieval is to know what to expect. The process won’t be exactly the same for everyone but with the tips we shared above, you’ll be more than prepared when the big day comes. Whatever you choose, our team is here to support you and help you feel empowered as you determine which family-building options are right for you!