If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been thinking about freezing your eggs. Perhaps you’ve wondered, “why is this such a big deal anyway?” In short, egg freezing is a way to preserve the quality of your eggs, which is important because oocyte quality and quantity decline with age (as you may have read on our blog before in “What I Wish My Younger Self Knew About Fertility.”) This has two consequences when seeking to conceive naturally.
First, a decline in egg quality and quantity (or generally, ovarian reserve) means a lower chance of achieving pregnancy in any given month. The decline in ovarian reserve usually starts around age 30 and becomes steep around 35. Hence, the probability of conceiving naturally in any given month for a 22-year-old is roughly 25%. At 35 this has declined to approximately 18% and is lower than 10% by age 40.
Second, a decline in ovarian reserve could lead to a higher risk of genetic mutations that could negatively impact the baby. The risk of Down’s Syndrome is 1/1667 or 0.059% for a baby from a 20-year-old mother. That risk increases more than fourfold to 1/378 or 0.264% by age 35 and multiplies by more than 12x up to 1/30 or 3.3% by age 45.
These challenges stem mainly from the decline in egg quality and quantity. Egg freezing allows women to preserve the eggs from a young age, empowering them with autonomy to pursue a range of goals – career, travel, finding the right partner – and the decision to determine the right time to pursue motherhood.
When should I freeze my eggs?
Given the constant decline of ovarian reserve, the sooner the better. There’s really no magic age for freezing one’s eggs — it all depends on your own personal situation. Nonetheless, given that there’s a steep decline in oocyte quality and quantity around the age of 35, an egg freezing procedure will be most beneficial if done before that age.
The number of eggs frozen directly impacts the chances of pregnancy success in the future when using these eggs for IVF. Hence, with 4 eggs the chances of one live birth are 37% while the chance increases considerably to 61% with 8 eggs. The benefit of each extra egg is considerably greater when numbers are small, as the % chance of a live birth plateaus at around 14-15 eggs.
Generally speaking, the younger the age at which eggs are retrieved, the higher the number of eggs that will be collected. Furthermore, the higher the number of eggs, the higher the chances of success when these will be used in the future to achieve a pregnancy.
Since egg quality tends to be higher when retrieved at a younger age, the success rates of conception are higher. In studies, we see that the live birth per patient whose eggs were extracted before 29 is 100%. That percentage declines to 45% for patients who froze their eggs between ages 30 and 34, 28.5% at ages 35 to 39 and as low as 3.7% at ages at or above 40. While there is a large spread in the number of eggs retrieved at different ages, there is an undeniable downward decline as one ages. Depending on how many children you want to have and when you want to start having a family, when you choose to freeze your eggs will differ.
As you near 30, we recommend consulting your OBGYN before you seek the help of a fertility specialist, especially as egg freezing is a medical procedure and should not be weighed lightly. What exactly is involved in this procedure? Stay tuned for more from Ollipsis Fertility as we explore “Egg Freezing 101” in our next blog!