The average age of women having babies in Australia has risen to 30 years old, and the proportion of mother’s over 35 has risen from 19% in 2003 to 22% in 2013. It’s not surprising in light of these stats that more and more Australian women are deciding to freeze their eggs in order maximise and preserve their chances of conceiving later in life.
The modern demands of building a career, amongst travel and other life events, are now influencing women to delay having children.
Fertility however, does not follow this trend as the chances of a woman naturally conceiving decrease drastically as age increases. Only 40 babies have been born from frozen eggs from 2013 to 2015, however the procedure is gaining popularity as it may give women more of a chance to conceive at a later age.
Many women consider it as a sort of ‘fertility insurance policy’ if they are not in a position to start a family when they are at their most fertile. Most women are unaware of the fact that the prime age for the best quality of their eggs is at the tender age of 28.
Source: Infertility Graph
Egg Freezing: How Does It Work?
Egg freezing is the process of storing unfertilised eggs. This is different to embryo freezing, where the egg is fertilised with your partner’s sperm and then frozen, to be used later.
It is estimated that about 500 freezing cycles are performed in Australia every year and 80% of these are for medical reasons. If a patient is undergoing chemotherapy or another procedure that may affect fertility, freezing eggs may be an option covered under Medicare in order to be able to still have children post treatment.
However, if you are freezing your eggs due to social reason, the process will not be covered by Medicare and may cost up to $10,000 per cycle.
What is the Process?
If you choose to undergo the egg freezing process, you will have to have hormonal stimulation for 10 to 12 days, which means that your body releases and matures more eggs than in a normal cycle. This number is normally between six and 15 eggs. This part of the process is performed on your own and usually involves a daily injection using a small needle.
Eggs are collected during a procedure where you may be sedated or a under a light general anaesthetic. Under the guide of ultrasound the eggs are extracted from the wall of the ovary.
Once extracted the eggs undergo a freezing process known as Vitrification, which was pioneered in 2005. Eggs are first dehydrated and placed in a cryoprotectant solution. They are then separated and frozen with liquid nitrogen. The actual freezing takes a matter of seconds and eggs are frozen at -196 degrees Celsius.
Eggs can be stored for many years, some evidence shows frozen embryos that have been stored for a period of up to 15 years can still prove successful. In Victoria, the legal limit for storage is 10 years, at which point you will then need to apply for an extension.
So, the benefit of egg freezing lies in the fact that when you are ready to start a family the eggs will be waiting for you. They will be warmed and then used in a cycle of IVF or a procedure known as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), which is when a single sperm is injected into each egg.
Is The Process Effective?
Unfortunately there is a lack of data detailing babies born from egg freezing in Australia, as there are many cases where women do not return to unfreeze their eggs. However, the chances of becoming pregnant from a frozen egg are identical to IVF statistics as the final unfreezing and implanting process is actually IVF.
One leading IVF clinic claims that the international success rate ranges from five to 50 per cent depending on the number of eggs frozen and the age at freezing. The chances of egg freezing being a success are greatly dependant on the age at which the eggs were collected and frozen. In similarity to the regular process of fertility, chances are much higher for eggs that are frozen before the age of 30.
Eggsurance, a site for information on freezing eggs, advises that if retrieving your eggs younger than 30, it may be good to aim for 12 eggs, while 35 to 37 year olds aim for 12-15 and 37 to 39 year olds should be looking at 15 to 20 eggs to freeze. The number of eggs retrieved per cycle will vary from person to person.
In terms of fertility and starting a family there are many options available for women. Dr Amy Ho specialises in women’s health and works Sunday and Monday to Wednesday and occasionally Thursday. Book an appointment with her to discuss fertility options and what is right for you.