Today, many couples do not address the subject of parenthood until much later in their lives. Schooling and career paths seem to take priority for many 20-30 year old men and women, but the reality is that female fertility begins to decrease at age 30 and for some even sooner. Thankfully, advancements in reproductive technology are encouraging and have given newfound hope to couples who may not have had these same opportunities just a few years ago.
That ticking women start to hear when they enter their 30s is real and justified.
Women have made great progress over the last several decades. Burgeoned by increased equality at the workplace and at home, women have gained access to improved career opportunities, independent decision-making, and more equitable relationships. As women strike a new balance between education, career, and relationships, many have elected to delay childbearing.
Unfortunately, women’s biological clocks cannot always accommodate delayed reproduction. Women are born with approximately 2 million eggs. That may sound like a lot, but hundreds of eggs are lost each month and by the time a woman enters her 30s, most of her eggs are gone.
Egg quality also decreases with time.
As eggs sit in a woman’s ovaries, they become increasingly likely to carry genetic problems. Therefore, older women have reduced fertility and an exponentially higher risk of becoming pregnant with a genetically abnormal fetus. Over 50% of a woman’s embryos will be aneuploidy (genetically abnormal) by age 40. At age 42, more than 80% of her embryos will be abnormal.
Fertility treatments can improve a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant and having a healthy baby.
Fertility treatments like artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization help women with low egg counts become pregnant. Both of these technologies increase a woman’s monthly chance of conception. However, only in vitro fertilization with comprehensive chromosome screening (CCS) improves a woman’s chance of having a healthy pregnancy.
Comprehensive chromosome screening (CCS) enables physicians to analyze an embryo’s genetic make-up before it is transferred into a woman’s uterus. This technology, which can only be performed in women who are undergoing in vitro fertilization, involves removing about 5 cells from the placental portion of an embryo and using those cells to confirm that the embryo is genetically normal (upload). By ensuring that only genetically normal embryos are transferred, this technology dramatically improves a couple’s chance of delivering a healthy baby.
Fertility preservation allows women to delay childbearing by hitting the snooze alarm on their biological clocks.
Women who wish to delay pregnancy can cryopreserve oocytes or embryos for future use. This allows individuals to retain their ability to become pregnant even as they grow older. The process of egg freezing is similar to in vitro fertilization. Patients take medications for a little over a week to help some of their eggs mature. These eggs are then collected and frozen for future use. The great thing about freezing eggs at a young age is that those eggs retain their youth even as the years pass by. A woman who froze her eggs at age 35 and elects to use those eggs at age 42 will have the same chance of pregnancy that she would have had had she elected to become pregnant at age 35.
Despite the evolution in women’s’ roles in modern society, female reproduction remains limited by a woman’s age. Fertility treatments and fertility preservation allow women to take charge of their biological clocks and plan families for the time when they are best prepared for parenthood.