Updated: Jun 2
You want to have a family in the future; hopefully, more than one child but aren’t ready or in a position to start a family right now. You’ve heard that your fertility declines as you become older particularly after age 35 and want to know if freezing your eggs can maximise your chances of having a family in the future. I share my insights on this topic.
The reality is that the majority of heterosexual cis gendered women reading this article who will try to become pregnant by having unprotected sex will become pregnant and have one or more children with minimal or no complications.
The problem is that infertility affects 1 in 7 heterosexual couples in the UK (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) and 1 in 10 people of reproductive age in the US (American Society for Reproductive Medicine). You probably know someone who lives with infertility or will struggle with infertility.
As yet there isn’t a test or set of tests that can accurately predict your chances of having a baby in the future, so you won’t know if you’ll have a problem until you start trying. Taking ovarian reserve or ‘fertility MOT’ tests will not predict your chances of naturally conceiving a baby or tell you how many fertile years you have left.
I’ve lived with infertility for 10 years and could write pages about how traumatic the journey has been, how it has impacted my life, relationships, career and self-esteem. For anyone experiencing infertility, from the first few months onwards, the uncertainty, the grief, the worry and feelings isolation are incredibly stressful. The financial impact can be considerable, and the treatments are physically and emotionally tiring with variable success rates.
Our fertility decreases as we get older and has been shown to decline at a greater rate from 36 onwards. This means the risks of infertility increase as we get older. Having a medical condition, such as endometriosis, could also increase the risk of infertility. Freezing your eggs is one potential way of optimising your chances of conceiving in the future should you experience infertility.
Egg freezing is a procedure performed by specialist fertility doctors. The process involves stimulating your ovaries to encourage a number of eggs to grow. These eggs are removed whilst you are sedated and then frozen and stored until they are required. When you are ready to use them, the eggs are thawed, and a sperm is injected into each egg to create an embryo which is then transferred into your uterus.
These processes are known as assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and include egg freezing, in vitro fertilisation (IVF), egg donation and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). These procedures are used to treat infertility. So obviously if you are able to become pregnant naturally you will not need to use the procedures.
ART will be discussed in future articles.
1. Egg freezing could improve your chances of conceiving by IVF if you experience infertility in the future i.e. if you may need IVF in the future your chances could be improved by using your own eggs that were frozen at a younger age.
Research shows that women who freeze their eggs when they are 35 years or younger, then go on to have infertility in their late 30s and 40s and subsequently use those frozen eggs in an IVF cycle have better pregnancy success rates than women of the same age who have IVF using their own eggs.
A study in 2011 looked at the cost-effectiveness of three routes taken by 35-year-old women who wanted to postpone pregnancy until age 40.
The three routes were:
1. egg freezing at 35 and IVF at 40 using own thawed egg,
2. trying naturally at age 40
3. using IVF with own fresh eggs at 40.
Using the eggs frozen at age 35 (route 1) resulted in the highest proportion of live births followed by IVF (route 3) and then natural conception (route 2).
The average cost of conceiving with the egg freezing route was approximately thirty times higher than natural conception and approximately 1.35 times higher than IVF using fresh eggs at age 40. The study showed that for women in this age group, better value for money was gained from IVF cycles using eggs frozen at a younger age than using fresh eggs at an older age.
The Human Fertilisation & Embryo Authority (HFEA) had similar findings in their report when they analysed UK fertility data between 2010-2016.
2. If you are in your late 30s or 40s
Women in their late 30s and 40s can conceive naturally and have healthy babies although it may take longer to get there.
In the UK the most common age to freeze eggs is 38 and 40 for thawing eggs (HFEA).
There is no official or legal age limit for egg freezing. In this age group, the quality of the genetic material in the egg is more fragile which impacts on the viability of the egg. This affects your ability to become pregnant and stay pregnant.
Therefore, the overall costs of the full process from freezing to IVF are likely to be higher because the success rates are lower, and you may decide to have more IVF cycles.
3. If you don’t want to freeze your eggs
Using an egg from a donor who is in their 20s or early 30s is another option as research shows it increases your chance of having a successful pregnancy and live birth. Donor egg IVF cycles in women aged between 36-45 have success rates as high as women below 36 who have IVF using their own eggs.
According to the HFEA, the average cost for an egg freezing cycle in the UK is between GBP £7000-8000 (circa USD $9400-10,770). This includes egg freezing, subsequent thawing and IVF with medication. Some women require additional cycles to get a sufficient number of eggs to store. The average cost of an additional freezing cycle is £3000-4000. The costs of egg freezing vary across the world with lower costs seen in India, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey. It is possible to have your frozen eggs transported internationally. It is expensive and depends on the distance. Such transport would need to be arranged with licenced logistics companies.
Egg storage limits
Be aware that in some countries the storage period for eggs and embryos frozen for non-medical reasons is limited. In Sweden and UAE, the storage period is limited to 5 years, in the UK it’s 10 years. In Spain and the United States, eggs can be stored for an unlimited