What's the Right Age to Freeze Your Eggs?
A new study finds that women who expect to delay pregnancy should consider freezing their eggs a lot earlier than expected
Conventional wisdom has long been the earlier, the better—but researchers behind a new study now say there’s good evidence that the chances of a successful pregnancy falls significantly for women who freeze their eggs after age 36 and drops again after age 41.
“I think it’s going to lead people to freeze their eggs sooner rather than later,” said Kutluk Oktay, MD, a New York Medical College physician and scientist who specializes in preserving the fertility of female cancer patients.
Oktay led a team of researchers from the New York Medical College and the University of California Davis in a meta-analysis of data from more than 1,800 women who had their eggs frozen in the US and Europe. In addition to their findings related to age, they determined that the newer method of egg freezing, known as vitrification, tends to have higher rates of success.
Based on their number crunching, Oktay’s team developed an “Egg Freezing Success Estimator” that a woman can use to estimate her chances of a successful pregnancy based on her agesa, the number of eggs she stores and the method of egg freezing.
For instance, a 25-year-old who freezes 15 eggs through vitrification will later have a 39 percent chance of giving birth, while a 45-year-old who freezes the same number will see her chances drop to just below 18 percent.
Oktay stressed that the age a woman decides to have her eggs actually implanted doesn’t affect her chances of having a child.
“The uterus doesn’t age,” he said. “You can practically transfer (eggs) at 60 without a decline in the success rate.”
Sarah Elizabeth Richards, author of the new book Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It, agreed that the study is a good reminder “to freeze as early as you can,”—Richards herself had 70 eggs frozen between the ages of 36 and 38—but she cautioned that women should view Oktay’s estimator tool as providing guidelines, not absolutes.
Richards said the skill of the doctor in charge of thawing a woman’s frozen eggs plays a huge role in a patient’s success.
“In the egg freezing world, there’s such a huge disparity between superstar doctors… and people who don’t have experience making babies from eggs,” she said.
She added that every woman’s body is different and that those considering egg freezing should have their fertility evaluated. She noted that some of the women included in Oktay’s study were those who had fertility problems, as opposed to healthy women who opted for egg freezing.
“One 39-year-old could have really, really great eggs, [and] another 39-year-old could have terrible eggs,” she said.
But biology aside, women’s career and relationship circumstances can determine when they decide to freeze their eggs.
“I went to medical school and then residency and fellowship, and those were set blocks of time that I knew weren’t going to be ideal for parenting. If you know you have big blocks like that coming, [considering freezing eggs at] 29 is ideal,” Dr. Nicole Noyes, Director of Reproductive Surgery at NYU’s Fertility Center, told The Huffington Post.
Richards told BabyZone that she decided to freeze her eggs because her boyfriend at the time wasn’t sure he wanted kids.
“I was 35 and I knew I wanted kids and that’s when I started to feel the pressure, I didn’t want to lose the chance to have kids,” she said. Now 42, Richards is currently dating someone and plans to thaw her eggs in a couple of years.
New Yorker Lara Naaman blogged about her decision last year to have her eggs frozen at 37. She joked that she had “no baby daddy” and added that parenting wasn’t something she was interested in doing alone.
“I decided to freeze my eggs as insurance against future regret, more than anything,” she told BabyZone. “It’s a terrible reason to have actual children, but not such a bad reason to freeze.”
Naaman tried Oktay’s success estimator and got 17.2 percent as her estimated success rate.
“Like most people, I foolishly assume that the odds will always be in my favor, despite ample evidence to the contrary,” she said. Still Naaman conceded that if she’d known the odds beforehand, she might have hesitated in moving forward with egg freezing.
If knowing her chances of success don’t dissuade a woman from freezing her eggs, the cost of the process might.
Freezing eggs can cost $9,000 to $10,000 plus another $3,000 to $4,000 for medications per cycle, Oktay said.
Richards spent nearly $50,000 to freeze 70 eggs; she wrote in The Wall Street Journal that she “obliterated” her savings and used up the funds her parents had intended to spend on her wedding.
Still, Richards says she’s thrilled with the investment.
“It almost feels like a free pass, having a baby in my early to mid 40s, using an egg that’s much younger.”
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