What age should you freeze your eggs?-image

What age should you freeze your eggs?

According to the HFEA (Human Fertilisation & Embryo Authority), egg freezing and embryo storage cycles are the fastest-growing fertility treatments in the UK. More women than ever are turning to egg freezing / assisted reproductive technologies to help them navigate their future fertility when our biological clocks and personal timelines are out of sync.

Having children later in life is becoming the norm. The Office of National Statics found that for the first time ever, more women are turning 30 without children.

Between biological “body clocks”, careers, relationships, medical history, genetic conditions, family expectations and more, fertility planning is tricky business. The ticking of the biological body clock feels like a ticking time bomb—one that women and those assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) are acutely made aware of.

When you start to plan for future children, there are naturally a lot of questions. So when should you consider freezing your eggs?

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of egg freezing—the process itself, why it’s popular, the right age to do it, age limits and the alternative options for your fertility journey. We’ll provide you with clear, evidence-based insights to empower your decisions in navigating the challenges of fertility planning.

Understanding Egg Freezing

As you age, the quality and quantity of your eggs decline, which means getting pregnant and sometimes staying pregnant becomes more difficult. Freezing your eggs will preserve their quality ready for when you want to have a baby. But what age should you freeze your eggs, and does the age matter?

Ultimately, the earlier you can freeze your eggs, the better the chance of them developing into a live birth.

Known medically as “oocyte cryopreservation”, egg freezing is a medical procedure that involves having your ovaries stimulated with hormones so that they produce multiple eggs, instead of a single egg as in a typical natural menstrual cycle, these unfertilised eggs are then surgically removed, frozen and stored in a fertility clinic until you’re ready to use them.

The egg-freezing cycle, from ovarian stimulation to egg retrieval, takes around two weeks.

It’s not just a physical process either. Financial strain (egg freezing can cost up to £8,000 in the UK), daily injections, and hormonal changes can cause physical and emotional distress. Hertility’s fertility counsellors can support you through the egg-freezing process every step of the way, including recommending egg-freezing clinics. 

Egg freezing offers an opportunity to preserve your fertility if you plan on having children in the future. Maybe you want more time to focus on your career, travel the world or just haven’t found the one yet. Or perhaps you’re about to undergo medical treatments or gender-affirming therapy that could affect your fertility. 

Egg freezing allows you to live this part of your life without worrying so much about your fertility. It takes the pressure of having to decide whether to have a baby now. 

It’s important to note, though, that egg freezing isn’t a fail-safe method for having a baby, and its success relies on healthy eggs and a healthy reproductive environment. Generally, younger eggs are healthier eggs.

The Best Age to Freeze Your Eggs

Technically, you can freeze your eggs at any age before menopause, but eggs retrieved in your 20s and early 30s usually result in better outcomes than those in your late 30s and 40s. 

The earlier you do, the better your chances of having a pregnancy.

In our early to mid-twenties, we are at our most fertile, but there’s still only a 25-30% chance of us getting pregnant each cycle naturally. That number drops as the years go by— at 40, it’s  only 5%. Age also increases the risk of pregnancy-related complications like miscarriage, genetic disorders in the baby and gestational diabetes, especially after your mid-thirties.

Despite the best time to freeze our eggs being under 35, the average age is 38. This potentially means that a lower quality and quantity of eggs will be retrieved, and you may need more cycles to collect enough eggs.

Factors Influencing the Decision to Freeze Eggs

So, why consider egg freezing? You might consider egg freezing for medical purposes (known as medical egg freezing) when a medical procedure or diagnosis might increase the risk of infertility.

The other type of egg freezing is more about life choices (known as elective or social egg freezing) whether it’s holding off on family plans because of career goals, ticking things off your bucket list or just because you’re not quite ready.

You might choose medical egg freezing if you’re diagnosed with cancer, need cancer treatment like chemotherapy or radiotherapy, are diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or you’re having gender-affirming therapy.

Genetic conditions might also influence the decision to freeze your eggs. To increase the chances of being able to have a baby in the future, women or those AFAB with a family history of early menopause or another genetic condition might consider egg freezing as a precautionary measure.

Your relationship status could be a deciding factor too. Maybe you haven’t found the right person, or you have but you’re both not ready for children yet. Previous difficulty with fertility might make you want to freeze your eggs as a proactive measure, or religious and cultural expectations might come into play too.

Egg Freezing Age Limit: What You Need to Know

Although there’s no universal age limit for egg freezing, specific fertility clinics might impose one. This stems from the likelihood of live births reducing dramatically after 40.

Fertility clinics might set age limits for various reasons, including ethical concerns. The journey of egg freezing and fertility preservation can be quite a ride, both emotionally and physically. When the odds of a successful pregnancy are slim, clinics may put age restrictions in place to safeguard the health and well-being of their patients.

If you’re aged 40 or over and considering freezing your eggs, connect with a fertility advisor for personalised advice. As you age, your ovarian reserve naturally declines. An AMH (Anti-Müllerian Hormone) test, which assesses your ovarian reserve, can assist you in determining whether egg freezing is a suitable option for you.

Based on a 10-year study of 373 women conducted by our Hertility Team, better reproductive outcomes were observed for women who froze their eggs before turning 36. Among those who froze their eggs between 36 and 39, 82% achieved live births, while no live births were recorded for women who froze their eggs at 40 and above.

Freezing eggs is most effective under the age of 35 for several reasons. As you age, fertility takes a hit with a decrease in the quantity and quality of your eggs, along with a less supportive reproductive environment for pregnancy compared to a younger body.

Additionally, if you have a low egg reserve, you might have a  reduced response to ovarian stimulation during the egg-freezing process and need more cycles to collect a suitable number of eggs.

In the UK, you can store eggs, sperm, or embryos (fertilised eggs) for a maximum of 55 years. Fertility clinics typically charge an annual fee for storage.

If you have concerns or questions about egg freezing, speak with one of our fertility advisors. They can provide personalised guidance based on your individual circumstances.

The Process and Considerations of Egg Freezing

The egg-freezing process includes a number of steps:

  1. Initial consultation and assessment: You begin with a comprehensive evaluation, including a review of your medical history and medical tests like blood tests to check your ovarian reserve and an ultrasound scan to ensure that undergoing an egg freezing cycle is right for you. Counselling may also be part of this step to prepare you for the challenges ahead.
  1. Ovarian stimulation: If you decide to proceed, you’ll start medications, possibly including daily injections, to stimulate your ovaries for multiple egg production (compared to a single egg maturing during ovulation in a natural menstrual cycle).

Regular monitoring ensures the eggs are developing well. A trigger shot follows to induce the eggs to reach their final stage of maturity, ready for egg retrieval.

  1. Egg retrieval: About 36 hours post-trigger shot, the egg retrieval happens. This is a minor surgical procedure that happens under anaesthesia or sedation, a thin needle is used to remove the mature eggs from the ovaries. After a few hours of recovery in the clinic, you’re discharged, you might experience some temporary discomfort, cramping or spotting.
  1. Egg cryopreservation: The eggs will be checked in the laboratory by a specialist called an embryologist. The eggs which are mature and suitable for freezing will be mixed with a cryoprotectant (freezing solution) to protect them from any damage during the freezing process. They will then remain stored in the lab in the fertility clinic in liquid nitrogen at ultra-low temperatures (-196℃) until needed.
  1. Post-procedure: Expect a recovery period with potential mild discomfort or bloating lasting about a week. A follow-up appointment covers retrieval details, egg quality, and post-procedure advice.
  1. Future use of frozen eggs: When you’re ready, your frozen eggs will be thawed, fertilised with sperm, either from your partner or a donor if needed, and allowed to develop into embryos in the lab before being transferred into your uterus.

After a 2 week wait, you will be asked to take a pregnancy test to check if the embryo implants successfully and resulted in a pregnancy. Following a positive at home urine pregnancy test, you might be asked to reconfirm the results with a blood test and be booked in for a scan to check if the pregnancy is in the right place and be advised on how to proceed further.

Alternatives and Complementary Options

In addition to egg freezing, there are other fertility preservation methods and complementary options you might consider on your fertility journey.

Embryo cryopreservation is when embryos are created through IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) when an egg is fertilised with sperm in the laboratory. This is often preferred for couples in stable relationships, but it might not be suitable for individuals without a male partner.

Your fertility preservation plan should be tailor-made to your medical history, fertility status and personal preferences.

Don’t forget that fertility preservation is always evolving. Tech upgrades happen and research unfolds. Staying in the loop ensures you’re armed with the latest info for your journey.

Early planning with healthcare providers and your family is crucial, especially for people facing medical treatments that might increase the risk of infertility.
Knowing all the facts and speaking with fertility advisors means you can make well-informed and empowered decisions about your reproductive health, and decide if and when egg freezing is right for you.

FAQs

What is the ideal age range for egg freezing?

Technically, you can freeze your eggs at any age before menopause, but eggs retrieved in your 20s and early 30s usually result in better outcomes than those in your late 30s and 40s. This is largely to do with the quality of the eggs at the time they are retrieved, as generally our eggs begin to decline more rapidly from 35 onwards.which can affect your ability to become and stay pregnant, plus pregnancy complications and genetic disorders are more common.

Are there any risks associated with egg freezing at a later age?

Unfortunately, there are various risks associated with egg freezing at a later age. As we age, the quantity and quality of our eggs do too. This declining ovarian reserve means that not only are there potentially fewer eggs to retrieve but the eggs retrieved and frozen at a later age have a lower chance of successful fertilisation and implantation during future fertility treatments.

Age also increases the risk of pregnancy-related complications like miscarriage, genetic disorders in the baby and gestational diabetes, especially after your mid-thirties.

Older individuals might also require multiple IVF cycles to achieve a successful pregnancy (because fewer eggs retrieved might result in fewer viable embryos) which can cause more financial and emotional strain.

How long can frozen eggs remain viable?

Frozen eggs remain viable and are allowed to be stored for up to 55 years in the UK.

References

  1. https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/fact-sheets-and-infographics/infertility-an-overview-booklet/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5264372/
  3. https://www.hfea.gov.uk/media/2656/egg-freezing-in-fertility-treatment-trends-and-figures-2010-2016-final.pdf
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/jun/20/rise-women-freezing-eggs-uk
  5. https://www.hfea.gov.uk/about-us/publications/research-and-data/fertility-treatment-2021-preliminary-trends-and-figures/
  6. https://www.londonwomensclinic.com/egg-freezing/about-egg-freezing/

Zoya Ali BSc, MSc

Zoya Ali BSc, MSc

Zoya is a scientific researcher with a Bachelor's degree in Biotechnology and a Masters in Prenatal Genetics & Foetal Medicine from University College London. Her research interests are reproductive genetics, fertility preservation, gynaecological health conditions and sexual health.

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