When it comes to considering egg freezing and storage, there are a million things to consider: Should you freeze your eggs? How does the process work? What will it cost and can I afford it?
While all of those questions are very valid in determining if egg freezing is right for you — especially since the process and approach can vary based on your lifestyle, where you live, what cryopreservation labs you have access to, and why you’re considering egg preservation — many women find that there’s one looming question that they’re unsure of: When should I freeze my eggs?
Unfortunately (and fortunately!), there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding when you should freeze your eggs. But there is one big factor — your age. When considering or starting the egg retrieval, freezing, and storage process, it’s important to know that age does impact the health of your eggs and how well they may survive the egg freezing and thawing processes.
With that being said, don’t feel as if you should rush to a decision about freezing your eggs just because you may be “running out of time” or approaching a particular age. Egg viability is personal and varies from woman to woman. So while freezing eggs at a younger age can have some benefit, surpassing your 20s doesn’t mean you aren’t a strong egg-freezing candidate.
Here’s How Age Impacts Egg Freezing
Nature can be fickle when it comes to starting a family. Many women and couples in their 20s aren’t quite ready for the adventure of parenthood, despite their reproductive systems being ready and at optimal working capacity.
Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have — unlike men, whose bodies create new sperm indefinitely. Scientists believe that each woman is born with around two million eggs, but over time, the number of remaining eggs and their cellular quality diminishes. In fact, by puberty, an estimated half of a woman’s eggs are already gone (they deteriorate and are reabsorbed by the body).
Shockingly, by age 30, a woman may only have about 6% of the two million eggs she was born with. And by age 40, most women who have not begun pre-menopause can face difficulty conceiving or storing eggs because fewer than 20% of the remaining eggs are considered “genetically normal.” By the time a woman reaches 1,000 or fewer remaining eggs, she’s considered to have entered menopause, and the option of conceiving, even with the help of in vitro fertilization, begins to vanish.
Because of this biological depletion, it’s common for women in their 20s and 30s to have more available and top-quality eggs than women who are older than 35 — and why many fertility clinics recommend egg retrieval and freezing take place sooner rather than later for best results.
But even with an understanding of egg biology, there’s no definitive answer to what age is best. Generally, reproductive scientists and specialists have determined that women who freeze their eggs before age 34 had the best chances at a successful pregnancy when the thawing and IVF process began later on. Part of that success is biological, but also financial — women who froze eggs during this time were more likely to use them, as opposed to just having them as a backup plan.
Because every woman is different, the optimal age to freeze eggs varies from situation to situation, and the idea of freezing eggs early on isn’t always best or necessary. Research from the University of North Carolina Fertility Clinic found that women who froze their eggs at age 37 were more likely to successfully conceive compared to women who didn’t freeze their eggs but still tried for a baby closer to age 40. That research goes to show that waiting to freeze your eggs after age 35 can still give you options later on, despite the biology at play.
Should I Wait A Few More Years?
If you’re younger than 34, you may be questioning whether you should freeze your eggs at all.
A study on the best time for egg freezing conducted by the University of North Carolina Fertility Clinic found that for women in their 20s, freezing eggs was a personal choice that didn’t always maximize their chances of having a baby. That’s because women who undergo egg preservation in their 20s often still go on to find a partner and begin a family before reaching their 30s. In most cases, those women conceive naturally or without the use of their preserved eggs, making the process a great backup plan that just wasn’t needed.
In many cases, researchers say that choosing to freeze eggs at a younger age is more about other factors, such as health conditions or lifestyle, that may impact your ability to become pregnant later on. Women who undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments often still benefit from egg freezing during their 20s.
Am I Too Old To Freeze My Eggs?
Women who chose to freeze eggs at age 40 may have a hard time with successful conception since those eggs are considered to be lower quality. Still, there’s no definitive answer to when you are no longer a candidate for egg freezing, simply because each woman is different, and her fertility specialist’s approach to egg freezing and viability vary. In most cases, only a fertility doctor can give you a definitive answer on whether egg freezing is no longer an option worth pursing.
Speaking with your doctor or fertility specialist about egg freezing is important because it can open the door to fertility testing that answers this question. Basic testing that analyzes your follicle counts, hormone levels, and overall health conditions can give you the best, personalized picture of your reproductive health — and is the best answer to when you should consider or begin freezing your eggs.
Other Time-Based Situations
There are other life situations that can push you to freeze eggs, such as undergoing health conditions or treatments that could impact your reproductive system. Many women who are battling cancer or autoimmune diseases choose to freeze their eggs, regardless of age, as a backup plan to starting a family later in life.
It’s not unusual for women involved in active military duty or some career lifestyles with high injury risk to choose egg cryopreservation just in case. While age is one of the largest factors in determining when to preserve your eggs, your lifestyle and health are just as important to consider.
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