An advanced egg-freezing technique has been found to be as safe as IVF and may allow career-oriented women to postpone motherhood for as long as they desire.
Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, say that they have conducted the most exhaustive study yet of children born after the freezing procedure known as 'vitrification', and found that they appeared to be as healthy as those conceived normally or by IVF.
Lead researcher Ri-Cheng Chian says that the assessment of the outcomes of 200 children born from vitrified eggs showed that the rate of birth defects was 2.5 per cent, which is comparable to natural pregnancies and IVF.
"I have two daughters. If they wanted to preserve their fertility because they were 35 and not married, I would say, yes, they should use this technique. Even if they were 20 or 25 and wanted to use it for social reasons, I would recommend going ahead. We cannot yet say it is 100 per cent safe, but we are starting to amass good evidence that it is not risky so far as we can tell," Times Online quoted Ri-Cheng Chian as saying.
"The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says egg freezing for social reasons should happen only in clinical trials, because there isn't enough information yet, but I think that is soon going to have to change," the researchers added.
Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, which offers egg freezing in Britain, said: "This is the sort of evidence we have all been seeking. I think in time it will come to be seen as positively perverse to refuse to allow women to have the chance to establish pregnancies with their own frozen eggs."
She said that the eggs kept for freezing by women when they were in their twenties or thirties might eventually be shown to reduce the birth abnormality rate beyond that observed in the McGill study, which has been published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online.
According to her, the risk of birth defects is higher when older women conceive with their own fresh eggs.
The British Fertility Society says that it lacks a firm policy on egg freezing due to social reasons.
"A single study isn't enough, but if more data like this emerges we would be more relaxed about it," said Allan Pacey, the society's secretary.
Experts believe that the findings projecting pregnancy rates for vitrification to be as good as for IVF with fresh eggs may encourage more women to freeze eggs as a way of preserving their fertility, which starts to decline steeply when from the mid-thirties.
"Many women are clear they want to be a mother one day, and aren't in a position to do that now. That's the group we can help," said Dr. Lockwood.