Donating eggs is a process that is commonly referred to as selling eggs, although more appropriate terms are egg donation, oocyte donation, or ovum donation. A woman who becomes an egg donor is expected to act altruistically above all. The egg donation process involves the submission of an application, followed by an screening and the matching with a compatible recipient.
To sum up, this article will provide prospective egg donors with answers to FAQs and explain how does the entire process work.
The various sections of this article are assembled in the following table of contents.
What is an ‘egg donor’?
The meaning of the term egg donor makes reference to those women who willingly give their eggs away to another woman (i.e. egg donor recipient), so that she can get started with an infertility treatment that allows her to achieve pregnancy. See also: Guide to being an egg donor recipient.
A woman may choose to donate her oocytes to others for a number of reasons, including:
- A desire to help others have children
- Being economically compensated
- Donating for stem cell research to science
Egg donors have the right to be fully informed from beginning to end, as medical procedures with potential side-effects are involved. In short, they must be counseled about both the pros and the cons of egg cell donation.
Donors should provide written consent for participating in a donor program. In the case of known egg donation, both the egg donor and the intended parents are strongly advised to have separate legal counsel and sign a legal contract.
Every woman willing to donate her eggs to a fertility clinic should be psychologically, genetically, and medically pre-screened. Following the guidelines provided by the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine), the evaluation of the egg donor comprises the following steps:
- All potential egg donors should have attained the age of legal majority (18 years old), and preferably be within the 21-34 age group.
- Body Mass Index
- Ideally, it should be in the range of 18-26. A BMI that is too high or too low can correspondo with problems that might be affecting the overall donor’s state of health, and subsequently the quantity and quality of the eggs retrieved.
- Medical history
- Potential egg donors must complete an extensive medical questionnaire to provide information about their personal and family medical history. The motivation for donating their eggs will be assessed as well.
- Risk factors
- All potential egg donors are screened for risk factors for and clinical evidence of hereditary diseases and infections. A donor is ineligible if the presence of a risk factor is detected.
- Laboratory testing
- All donors must be tested for infectious and viral diseases, including syphilis, HIV-1 and HIV-2, hepatitis B and C, Chlamydia trachomatis, and neisseria gonorrhoeae.
- Blood type
- Prospective donors should have documentation of both their blood type and Rhesus factor status, as well as a complete blood count, and rubella titer.
Genetic testing is not a requirement everywhere. However, if done, it should be based on ethnicity and include testing for the presence of cystic fibrosis (CF). Karyotyping is not compulsory either, but may be offered by some fertility clinics.
Being an egg donor is a serious commitment that will help infertile couples create a family. In general, the process takes around 6 weeks, although some times it can be as long as 4 months—it varies on a case-by-case basis. The initial phase comprises the next two steps:
- At the very beginning, first time donors undergo an overall initial screening at the doctor’s office. Although each fertility center follows its own protocol, the standard testing order comprises hormone tests as well as a psychological screening.
- If this initial phase is optimal, the donor is medically and genetically screened to prove she actually meets the requirements listed above in relation to STDs, HIV, hepatitis, etc., including drug and nicotine tests.
Provided that these preliminary phases are passed successfully, the doctor will create an individual calendar for each donor. From this moment on, she is able to get started with ovarian stimulation, which will lead to egg retrieval, as one can find explained in the following section:
Egg donors have to self-administer ovulation-stimulating drugs through subcutaneous injections. It is a hormone therapy which comprises the use of gonadotropins (FSH and/or LH) to promote the production of multiple eggs and development.
Ovulation induction protocols vary according to the particularities of each patient and the characteristics of her menstrual cycle.
Once we have made sure the potential egg donor is physically and mentally capable of being an egg donor, the egg donor medication calendar is established. Then, donors are given instructions on how to self-administer fertility drugs in order for the treatment to be successful.
These medications are self-administered following the guidelines provided by your physician. It starts on the first day of menstruation, that is, on day 1 of the menstrual cycle, up until the day determined by the doctor. The egg donation process usually takes around 10 days.
Donors are required to visit the fertility clinic every two days for ultrasound monitoring and blood testing, so that follicle development is observed. Blood samples are taken to measure the estradiol levels, while follicle growth is monitored through ultrasound scan. We must remember that eggs grow inside the follicles, which are “sacs” located inside the ovary.
Monitoring is a key step in the process to prevent the potential risks associated to egg donation. If you want to learn more about this, please visit the following post: Potential risks of egg donation.
As explained before, the most important factors for the gynecologist to monitor follicle growth and determine the best moment for egg collection through follicular puncture are two:
- Follicle size: As eggs grow and develop, follicles increase their size. A follicle size of 16-18 mm indicates that ovulation is imminent, that is, the eggs are mature and ready to be collected.
- Estrogen levels: The more mature the egg is, the higher the estrogen levels become, thereby increasing the donor’s blood estrogen levels.
Follicle puncture is a surgical intervention by which oocyte retrieval is carried out. It is done using general anesthesia and takes around 20-30 minutes. A needle is passed through the vagina and into the follicles. Then, the fluid containing the eggs in the follicles is aspirated.
Follicle aspiration is done by passing a needle through the vagina, so there is no cutting or scarring for the donor. When the donor wakes up after surgery, she may notice only minor discomfort. After a short recovery time of 3 to 4 hours, donors can come back home on their own and without discomfort.
Once at home, donors are advised to continue with their normal lifestyle, although avoiding great efforts during the first days. Around two weeks later, the next period will begin along with a new menstrual cycle.
Risks and side effects
Although the appearance of side-effects is unlikely, egg donors must be fully informed about the potential risks this medical procedure involves.
The following are the most common risks:
- Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS): It is one of the most common side effects of oocyte donation. It is related to the administration of hormonal medications for ovulation induction. Symptoms include sickness, nausea, physical discomfort, fever, etc.
- Surgery complications: Issues associated with surgery and the use of anesthesia are also rather common after egg donation.
Even though complications are unlikely, donors have the right to be fully informed prior to getting started with the process. You can find all the information here: Potential risks of egg donation.
Finally, egg donors should know that donating eggs does not affect your future fertility, as the oocytes donated belong to a group that would have degenerated if they would have been donated. In short, egg donation has no negative impact on the ovarian reserve of the donor.
Egg donors can get a financial compensation for fulfilling their responsibilities as donors. The compensation rate varies by country, mainly depending on whether the commercial egg donation is allowed or not.
According to the ASRM’s guidelines, the economic compensation given to egg donors should be justified on ethical grounds, and structured as an acknowledgement of the time, discomfort, and inconveniences derived from screening, ovulation induction, and egg retrieval.
In countries such as Spain, where the Law states that egg donation is an altruistic act, egg donors are paid €800-1,000. On the other hand, donors in the USA can be paid a monetary compensation of $6,500 the first time, an up to $15,000 in subsequent cycles.
There exist two types of remuneration for egg donation:
- Monetary compensation: In recognition of the significant time, discomforts, and inconveniences associated with the process.
- Egg sharing IVF: The woman who donates her eggs will undergo IVF at a reduced cost.
High payments could create the possibility of indue inducement or even exploitation in the donation process. Many women may discount the risks associated with egg donation out of their eagerness to get a financial compensation.
Donating eggs means contributing your own DNA to another couple, which can create a feeling of grief in some women. It is crucial for egg donors to understand what egg donation is all about as a way of avoiding feelings of regret and ethical dilemmas.
Women should consider both the pros and the cons before applying to become egg donors. Also, it should be clear that, despite they will share part of their DNA with the donor-egg baby, they have no rights or obligations over the child.
To become an egg donor, women have to understand that the genetic link is not the only aspect defining motherhood. Donors give little importance to the DNA and understand it goes beyond the basic concept of motherhood. They understand being a mother involves processes such as the upbringing of a child, education, loving someone, being a caretaker…
FAQs from users
How much can you sell your eggs for?
As mentioned earlier, the compensation given to egg donors varies by country and the regulations governing it there. If you donate in the USA, compensation rates range from $6,000 to $15,000. The Spanish Law does not allow sums exceeding €800-1,000. In the UK, the amount is similar: around £750 to cover the costs derived from the process.
If you donate your eggs can you still have babies?
Yes, egg donors can still get pregnant in the future if they wish so. Donating eggs does not have a negative impact on future fertility. Keep in mind that the group of eggs donated would have degenerated if they had not been donated. A woman’s fertility is not compromised after egg donation.
Does selling your eggs hurt? Is it safe?
The process for egg retrieval is carried out under mild anesthesia, which makes it a totally safe procedure. However, discomforts may arise as a side effect of ovulation induction. Bruises in the injection area, exhaustion or leg swelling are common symptoms.
Also, surgery for egg collection is done using anesthesia so that the donor cannot feel any pain. Thus, the answer to this question is no, it is not a painful process at all.
Is becoming an egg donor worth it?
In recent decades, with the advent of birth control and family planning methods, more women choose to delay motherhood until their late 30s or even 40s. As a consequence, the demand for infertility services has increased.
So, of course it is worth it, as you are helping others create a family in spite of being unable with their own egg cells. Understanding that donating your eggs does not mean selling reproductive cells is crucial: egg donation is an altruistic process above all.
Donating eggs means you are the biological mom of the baby born as a result of your donation?
Yes, the biological mother of a child is the woman whom he inherits half of his DNA. As DNA is inherited from the gametes from which a person is conceived, the donor would be the biological mother of the child, and the recipient the birth mother.
How does being an egg donor work?
If you meet all the requirements and have made the decision that you want to help others by donating your eggs, the first thing you should do is visiting a fertility clinic or egg bank and apply as a candidate. You will be medically and psychologically pre-screened and, if all tests are successful, the timeline will be established.
Selling eggs to fertility clinics multiple times, is it possible?
There is a need for limiting how many times a woman can donate her eggs in those countries where there is no limit yet. The chance that donor-conceived children they meet later in life raises health concerns about their potential offspring.
Many young women decide to sell their eggs as a means of supplementing their income thanks to the economic compensation they get. Donors should be aware, however, of the potential long-term risks and make choices accordingly.
The more times a given woman donates her eggs, the higher the chances of inadvertent consanguinity. If children are unaware of their genetic heritage, this may turn out to be a real problem in the future.
What type of anesthesia is used for egg retrieval? Local or general?
Anesthesia used for egg retrieval is usually general anesthesia, although it is a mild version that keeps the donor asleep only during the surgical procedure (20-30 min).
Can I gain weight during the ovum donation process?
Medications prescribed to egg donors for inducing ovulation contain hormones and this can cause fluid retention. However, the treatment lasts only 10 days, so the weight gain is not usually too significative. It is uncommon for egg donation to cause egg donors to gain weight.
Suggested for you
The ones listed above are the most basic requirements to become an egg donor. If you want to learn in more detail, we recommend you to have a look at the following post: Requirements to donate eggs.
If you have already made up your mind and cannot wait to submit your application for donating eggs, you should know all about the medical process you are about to undergo. Should this be your case, then do not miss this: What is the procedure for donating eggs?