Age barriers to fertility treatment
Tuesday December 12th, 2017
There are major barriers to getting pregnant for many hopeful couples and single women, but with IVI age need not be one of them. With advances happening in the field of fertility preservation and IVF every month, it is now more likely than ever before that patients of more advanced years can achieve their dream of falling pregnant. The oldest woman to conceive via IVF was 66 years old when she gave birth to twins in 2006. This was made possible by using donor eggs, fertilised through standard IVF procedure and then implanted back into the mother’s uterus. This just goes to show that while age may present some barriers, it is no longer the definitive barrier to starting a family that it once was – though the medical community as a whole has arrived at the consensus that 50 is a reasonable upper age limit. Women choosing to have their children later in life is possible with expert medical assistance such as that provided by IVI clinics around the world.
In the western world in particular, women are choosing to delay having children. There are many reasons for this. Some of these include: advancing in a career first and foremost, making sure to get to a position which guarantees power and security before taking time out to start a family; waiting until they are financially stable and able to afford the best possible care and facilities to advance their child’s life; or perhaps waiting until they feel the call of motherhood which may have evaded them in their twenties and thirties. Of course, there are also those for whom the delay is outside of their control: cancer and other aggressive diseases and the treatments for them may have played a part; or other social factors may have been the cause, no matter how desperately the woman or couple has longed to conceive. Thankfully, with attention and care paid to the world of infertility treatments in the past few decades, it is possible to begin trying for a child at a later age. While women over the age of 35 are considered geriatric mothers, this term is really just a way of classifying age groups for medical reasons. Fertility is affected more as age increases, but women in their late thirties and early forties may still be able to conceive naturally or with minimal clinical assistance, and women who are older than this may still find success via a range of options.
Options for older patients
IVF is the most common infertility treatment for older patients with IVI. After the age of 35 time does become a factor and so if the couple has been trying to conceive for six months without success, it is time to visit a doctor. The reason for this is that rates of fertility begin to drop from about the age of 30, more rapidly after the age of 35, while the quality of the woman’s eggs will also start to degenerate. Apart from making conception more difficult, lower quality eggs may mean a higher chance of Down’s or Edward’s syndrome, as well as other potential genetic abnormalities. The patient may be able to use her own eggs, but in some cases it may be preferable to opt for egg donation. The benefits of using a donor’s eggs is that there is a higher chance of success.
Egg donors with IVI go through a rigorous screening process in which they are examined for disease and genetic abnormalities, and also undergo a psychological interview to ensure they are mentally healthy as well as physically. IVI only takes eggs from healthy women between the ages of 18 and 35, so the patient can be sure that the egg used to conceive her baby is of the top possible quality. Donors are altruistic, giving their eggs freely and without financial compensation; they are reimbursed for expenses relating to donating, but are not given financial incentive to donate. In Spain, donor anonymity is key and guaranteed by law; in other countries this may not be the case, so it is up to the patient to ensure that they are comfortable with the arrangements in place in the country in which they undergo treatment. This also applies to sperm donors in cases where the male partner cannot provide sperm, or where there is no male partner such as for same-sex female couples and single women. Social reasons such as sexual orientation or relationship status are not an issue that concerns IVI, and we will aim to provide the best treatment for each individual patient or patients.
It is becoming more common to freeze eggs when younger, and this is something that IVI encourages women to do if there is the potential for delaying childrearing. This option means that when the woman is ready to begin attempting to conceive via IVF, she will be able to use her own eggs, even though she may be at a more advanced age. This is an attractive option for those who would prefer to ensure they conceive with their own genetic material, subverting the problem of aging eggs and the drop in quality. It is recommended that women freeze their eggs before the age of 35.
There is no legal upper limit on the age of women who are hoping to undertake treatments for infertility, but it is not typically recommended for women over the age of 50. This is a limit which IVI thinks is reasonable, though each clinic considers patients on their individual needs and merits. At 50, the chance of conceiving does drop dramatically, so it is understandable that IVI may choose not to go ahead with treatments at the cost, both financial and emotional, to the patient.
In the 21st century, age is no longer such an insurmountable barrier to conception. Women are most fertile in their early twenties, but in the western world in particular it is less and less common to begin childbearing at that age. Social factors do mean a delay in starting a family, and with advances in fertility treatments it is possible to have a healthy, bouncing baby in your forties.