It’s a well-known fact that women today are delaying having children, opting to start their families later in life than their parents or grandparents did. About half of millennials (23-38 years old in 2019) are now postponing the birth of their first child, while most families in prior generations were completed by the age of 30. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that at least 20 percent of women are waiting to begin their families until after age 35.
The reasons vary. For some, it’s simply the fact that they have yet to find a partner with whom they want to have children. For others, they are primarily focused on their education and career.
Unfortunately, the period of greatest advancements in these pursuits often directly coincides with that period of time when female fertility has reached its peak and is beginning to decline — usually in the late 20s to mid-30s. This means that more women are having difficulty getting pregnant when they do decide the time is right to start building their family
The good news? Unlike in previous generations, you have options to help preserve your fertility that do not require you to get pregnant right now.
THE FACTS ABOUT FEMALE FERTILITY
Women are born with all of the eggs we will ever have. At first, we have millions of eggs. But over time, month after month, we lose these eggs. This makes achieving a pregnancy more difficult with advancing age.
This decline in fertility happens much faster than most women realize. At peak fertility in our 20s, we have a 20-25 percent chance of conceiving naturally during a given menstrual cycle. By our mid-30s, that chance drops to around 15 percent. At 45, the chance of conceiving naturally is less than 5 percent.
As we age, our eggs age with us. This means the quality of our eggs begins to decline as we get older. And the rate at which it declines increases as we age. With each passing year, more of our eggs become genetically abnormal. Genetically abnormal eggs can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage.
While this does not mean that it’s impossible for women in their late 30s or older to get pregnant naturally and have a healthy baby, for some, it is going to be difficult.
We recommend that a couple see a fertility specialist if the female is under 35, and they have been trying to conceive for at least 12 months. If the female is over 35, we recommend seeking help after trying to conceive for at least 6 months.
One way to plan for your future family before you are ready to have kids is through fertility preservation — freezing your eggs now for later use. Because your eggs become less and less viable as you age, having a reserve of your own younger, healthier eggs available can greatly improve your chances for success of having a biologic child with assisted reproductive technology (fertility treatment, such as IVF) down the road.
Fertility preservation involves a process of retrieving your eggs from your ovaries, cryopreserving (freezing) them, and storing them until you are ready to use them. You may try to conceive naturally even after you have frozen your eggs. However, these frozen eggs can serve as “back up” should you have difficulty getting pregnant on your own in the future. While freezing eggs does not guarantee a child, it does increase your chances of a successful pregnancy.
You can also freeze embryos, which consist of a joined sperm and egg. The eggs retrieved for preservation are fertilized with your partner’s or a donor’s sperm in the lab, and the embryos are frozen and stored.
Midwest Fertility uses vitrification freezing technology, which flash freezes eggs in just a few seconds, and is seeing high success rates when it comes to preserving top-quality eggs and embryos.
WHERE TO START
All of this information may be somewhat overwhelming — and that’s understandable. But understanding your fertility gives you the ability to be proactive in making decisions about your reproductive options.
Fertility preservation and freezing eggs may not be the right choice for everyone. The steps you take to assess or address your fertility and future chances of having a baby need to make sense for you. But if you are concerned, or even just curious, I highly recommend getting tested to evaluate your ovarian reserve, which can often be done with some simple blood tests. The specialists at Midwest Fertility can help you interpret these results and help talk you through options that fit your unique situation and fertility goals.
For more information about fertility preservation, getting tested or other services, contact us.