Reports of Lina Alvarez giving, who is a doctor herself, giving birth to a healthy child after IVF at the age of 62 years created controversies, fostered dreams and busted several myths about becoming a mother at an advanced age. In 2016, 72-years old Daljinder Kaur, who is considered to be the oldest woman in the world to give birth after IVF prompted hues and cries from the Indian Medical Council for an age limit of the recipients of fertility treatments.
In Britain, women above 42 years of age aren’t eligible to receive fertility treatments including IVF, at NHS. However, there are cases where women seek IVF treatments in private, so where does the controversy surrounding IVF in older couples stem from? Kshitiz Murdia, Medical Director, Indira IVF busts five myths regarding IVF in older women.
Myth: Pregnancy in older women always leads to complications before and during birth.
Reality: Over the years, doctors have spoken extensively about the complications that arise in older women during pregnancy. Older mothers tend to suffer more from high blood pressure, preterm labour and diabetes than their younger counterparts during pregnancy. However, according to a study by Reichman et al, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, there is not enough evidence to link advanced maternal age to preterm delivery. As per another study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal (Cavazos-Rehg et al), complications during pregnancy and delivery were highest among women between the ages of 11 and 18.
After Proper medical evaluation before IVF, it’s possible to find out high-risk patients among older women. And by offering IVF only to low-risk patients reduces the risk of complication that may happen during the antenatal period. Moreover, women of every age should consider these challenges before and during pregnancy, but there is not enough scientific evidence that suggests that these health concerns only affect older women going through IVF.
Myth: Pregnancy in older women harms the child.
Reality: Natural pregnancy in older women, although rare, increases the chances of the foetus developing chromosomal disorders including Down’s syndrome. During IVF medical professionals screen each embryo for possible Genetic abnormalities via Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening, and only implant the healthiest one(s) in the mother’s uterus. These screening tests and diagnostic tests can detect chromosomal abnormalities beyond Down’s syndrome
According to a 2019 study published in the Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, the health of an embryo depends upon the health of the mother, which, in many cases, is independent of a woman’s age. There are options where an older woman can choose to go through IVF with the eggs from a younger woman. In such instances, the health risks of the foetus due to chromosomal abnormalities can be nullified and can achieve genetically normal pregnancy like a younger woman.
Myth: IVF isn’t successful in older women.
Reality: It is a popular belief that IVF in older women is likely to fail. It may come from the fact that older women are less likely to become pregnant without fertility treatments. It is true that when older women use their own eggs (ova) the chances of successful pregnancies diminish drastically. However, when women receive donor eggs, the success rate increases drastically, as pregnancy rate is inversely related to mothers’ age if; IVF is done with self-egg.
An older woman can have the same success rate as a younger woman irrespective of her ethnicity as long as the donor eggs come from a young and healthy woman. It also reduces the chances of the baby having chromosomal disorders.
Myth: Being older parents can be harmful to the child.
Reality: The average life expectancy of men and women in India is on the rise. So, leaving a young child fatherless or motherless at a tender age is only a distant possibility. Some believe that older women are unable to meet the physical demands of motherhood. However, that is also true for younger women due to physiological and psychological limitations.
In many countries, especially in India, children receive attention and care from their grandparents. These children typically thrive in academics and beyond. Age is not a bar in motherhood and the attitude of people towards older women becoming mothers through IVF is changing rapidly.
Myth: Older women can’t bear children using their own ova.
Reality: Earlier, it was almost impossible to even think that women above 35 years of age could become pregnant, but IVF is changing that notion. Women of advanced age having low egg count can now fulfil their dreams of having their own biological child, thanks to newer Stimulation protocols, Cryopreservation & PGD technology.
Now, the doctors are considering using healthy frozen ovum for IVF in older women. This is how it can work. A woman in her early or late 20s can choose to have her ova aspirated and frozen. Later in life, maybe after 35 or even 40 years of age, she can choose to undergo IVF. The doctor can use the frozen ova for subsequent fertilization and implantation. This reduces the risks of implanting an ovum with chromosomal abnormalities due to degrading DNA in older eggs. And it gives a chance to older women to become mothers using their own eggs.
Becoming a mother is a choice. While one should always consider her health before opting for IVF, age should not be a limiting factor.