What Is Fertility Preservation?
Fertility preservation is the process of saving or protecting eggs, sperm, or reproductive tissue so that a person can use them to have children in the future.
- How Fertility Preservation Works
Some medication is given to the female, as a first step, to allow her to produce more than just one egg. Eggs are collected just as they are ready to ovulate. If there is sperm, it is specially prepared and mixed with the egg. Any resultant embryos are then allowed to develop before being placed into the uterus. Surplus, good quality embryos can be frozen or ‘cryopreserved’ for use at a later date. Egg can be frozen
- Who Needs Fertility Preservation?
You may consider fertility preservation for medical reasons because your fertility is at risk due to a serious illness or treatment such as chemotherapy; or because you are worried about the effect of age on your fertility.
- How Fertility Preservation Evolved
Fertility Preservation was originally developed to assist cancer patients, impacted by strong drugs, to freeze their eggs prior to treatment and conceive a baby at a later stage. However, there is an increasing trend among women to defer having a baby for financial, career and relationship reasons. Age related infertility is an increasing problem in the Western World, where according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) one in six people experience fertility challenges.
The reason for this is that female fertility reaches a peak in the early 20s and begins to decline significantly from age 30 onwards.
- Women are most fertile between the ages of 20 and 24
- At 35, you’re half as fertile as you were at 25
- At 40 you’re half as fertile as you were at 35.
A woman’s ovaries age in the same way that normal aging affects all of her organs and tissues. Most women have about 300,000 eggs in their ovaries at puberty. For each egg that matures and is released or ovulated during the menstrual cycle, at least 500 eggs do not mature and are absorbed by the body.
As a woman ages, the remaining eggs in her ovaries also age, making them less capable of fertilisation and their embryos less capable of implanting.
Fertilisation is also associated with a higher risk of genetic abnormalities such as chromosomal abnormalities. The risk of a chromosomal abnormality in a woman aged 20 years is one in 500 while the risk in a woman age 45 is one in 20.
Where a woman decides to freeze her eggs for non-medical reasons, we prefer that she be under the age of 35 at the time of egg freezing, for these reasons.
- Is Embryo Freezing an Option?
Sperm freezing has been around since the 1950s, meaning that men can also preserve their fertility. Up to now, the only option open to women was to undergo an IVF cycle and to freeze the embryos that resulted from fertilising the egg with sperm. This meant that a young woman must have a male partner, which many, especially younger women may not have and that the couple would remain together in the future. If the couple split up, the male, whose sperm was used to fertilise the eggs, could withdraw his consent to use of the embryos.
An altogether more desirable route is to freeze the woman’s eggs, giving her autonomy over her pregnancy options. The Rotunda IVF Fertility Preservation programme allows women to freeze their eggs now and to conceive a child with a partner of her choice at a later date.