Fertility preservation adds a new degree of flexibility to family planning, better enabling couples to have children when they want to. With advances in fertility preservation, couples can postpone childbearing for any reason and still maintain their fertility for future years. In large part, it can halt the ticking of the biological clock.
A woman’s best reproductive years are in her 20s. Fertility gradually declines as she enters her 30s, with both the quality and quantity of her eggs declining. Both fall even more rapidly after the age of 35. Older women are still capable of bearing children, but their eggs are not of the same quality as they once were. The viability of men’s sperm may last longer, but the condition of sperm is best for younger men.
There are many situations that might make fertility preservation a good idea. Many women in their 20s are not ready to have children yet. They may want to focus on their career or other aspects of life first or may simply not feel that they’re ready for parenthood yet. Committed couples may not have the financial resources or stability to start raising children. Though children are in their plans, the time for them has not yet come.
Instead of waiting until the time they are ready for motherhood, it is possible to plan for that day by freezing and banking embryos or eggs while a woman is still in her 20s or 30s and at her peak fertility. While embryos can still be frozen when a woman gets older, doing so while in her 20s and 30s gives a much better chance that a future pregnancy will be successful.
Eggs and sperm from older adults are theorized to increase the likelihood of developmental and neurological diseases in their children in comparison to the eggs and sperm of younger adults. So fertility preservation could potentially result in a healthier child. Fertility preservation is also an option when disease, such as cancer, threatens to compromise one partner’s ability to reproduce.
The procedure for embryo freezing and banking is similar to that for freezing and banking of eggs. The two main differences are that in embryo freezing, a woman’s eggs must first be fertilized by her partner’s sperm before freezing. The other difference is that doctors have been freezing embryos for much longer than they’ve been freezing eggs, so all various ins and outs of the procedure are much better understood. Hundreds of thousands of babies have already been born from frozen embryos. And embryos have been left frozen for well over 15 years before producing healthy babies.
We freeze embryos on the fifth day after fertilization, at the so-called blastocyst stage. Most chromosomally abnormal embryos will stop dividing before this point, although not all. This can be seen under the microscope, so defective embryos are less likely to be frozen. Waiting until the fifth day allows us to freeze stronger embryos that are more likely to result in a pregnancy. Based on our research, chromosomally normal embryos freeze and thaw better than chromosomally abnormal ones and specially when vitrification method is used.
Just because you have frozen embryos banked away does not prevent you from having children without in vitro fertilization if you decide to opt for it. The frozen embryos will serve as insurance if it turns out that you are unable to get pregnant normally. Embryo freezing beforehand may allow you to overcome this problem and become pregnant when desired at a later reproductive age.