Don’t leave it too late

In the UK, packets of cigarettes have long carried prominent government health warnings. The idea behind this is that the consumer is challenged to reconsider their actions at the point of sale. There is some evidence of success for this policy, as a 2009 review by the World Health Organisation said, “There is clear evidence that tobacco package health warnings increase consumers’ knowledge about the health consequences of tobacco use. The warning messages contribute to changing consumers’ attitudes towards tobacco use as well as changing consumers’ behavior.”

Could a similar idea work for fertility?

In the west, birth rates are plummeting. This is compounded by the fact that more women than ever are leaving it later to have children. Yet female fertility declines rapidly after the age of 30. Professor Adam Balen, Chair, UK’s Fertility Education Initiative, thinks tobacco-style health warnings on contraceptive packets, including condoms, might help.

He said, “With cigarettes, you have health warnings about the adverse effects of smoking. You could have that on contraception, whether it’s a pack of condoms you get from the pub or the contraceptive pill. Inserts or warnings should be there: remember, don’t leave it too late. If you’re going to freeze eggs and have a viable chance of having a baby in the future, you should probably think about doing it before you get to the age of 37 or 38.”

Professor Adam Balan, “Remember, don’t leave it too late.”

Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director, Create Fertility agrees. She thinks graphs showing how fertility declines with age should also be printed on contraception packs. She explained, “People are more likely to look at a graph on the side of a packet than read the small print.”

Their calls come as the UK government has now revealed plans to allow people to freeze their eggs and sperm for up to 55 years. Although this move will help people make family-planning decisions earlier, it is important that women are aware of the risks of delaying pregnancy and that egg freezing does not guarantee a child.

Professor Balen is in favour of the government move but added a word of caution. He concluded, “Young people shouldn’t just be relying on technology to help preserve their fertility for the future. The freezing of eggs isn’t a guarantee they will have a baby.”