London, Jan. 6: Women in their twenties will be freezing their eggs to delay motherhood for social reasons within a decade, fertility specialists predicted yesterday.
They said that recent advances had paved the way for a “paradigm shift” in reproductive medicine that would help young women to preserve their fertility until they had established their careers or found the right partner.
The technology will soon make it simple for women to have a dozen or more eggs collected and banked on ice while they are at their fertile peak, Simon Fishel, of Nottingham’s Care Fertility Clinic, said.
These could be thawed once they were in their late thirties or forties to give them a better chance to start a family when their natural fertility would have declined.
Female fertility usually falls sharply after 35, yet the age of motherhood in Britain is rising as social trends lead more women to postpone trying for a first child. Women in their early 30s are now having more babies than women in their late 20s. The average age of mothers has risen from 26 in 1985 to 29 today.
While the defrosting and implantation of frozen eggs has been legal in Britain since 2000, and 23 clinics are licenced to carry it out, the procedure is unreliable and is generally offered in only extreme circumstances.
Only two British women, Helen Perry and Margaret McNamee, have given birth using frozen eggs. Other women who have stored eggs are cancer patients whose treatment risked causing sterility.
A new technique called vitrification has recently been shown to deliver dramatic improvements to the freeze-thaw process, Dr Fishel said, making it possible to store the eggs of many more women.
“We are approaching a defining paradigm shift in the area of fertility preservation for females,” he said.
“There are a lot of women of reproductive age who are going to want to have a career, and they are not going to be frightened off by being told they should have children in their twenties.
“When we get to the stage where freezing eggs is quite safe and effective, there will be a significant proportion in our society who will want their eggs frozen at a younger age. This will come within 10 years, maybe sooner.”
Virginia Bolton, consultant clinical embryologist at Guy’s Hospital, London, said that careers were not the only consideration that would encourage young women to freeze eggs.
“More and more women are finding it harder and harder to find a suitable partner, but want a family,” she said. “They are finding themselves in their late thirties and without a partner.”