Experts say restrictions on socialising during Covid crisis may have led more women to seek to preserve fertility.
There has been a dramatic rise in the number of women freezing their eggs in the UK, while more single people are opting for IVF, figures show.
A report from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) found that more people than ever are undergoing procedures, with egg- and embryo-freezing the fastest-growing fertility treatments in Britain.
Egg-freezing and storage increased from 2,576 cycles in 2019 to 4,215 in 2021 (a 64% rise), while embryo storage also rose.
Some experts have said the Covid pandemic had a big impact on the numbers of women wanting to freeze their eggs in the hope of preserving their fertility.
Sarah Norcross, the director of the Progress Educational Trust, said: “The dramatic rise in the number of egg-freezing cycles could be linked to the pandemic. Restrictions on socialising may have prompted some women to think more about their fertile window and decide to try to increase their reproductive choices.”
The HFEA data shows there was a 10% rise in IVF and donor-insemination cycles between 2019 and 2021 (about 7,000 more cycles).
Meanwhile, the average age at which women have fertility treatment with IVF has risen to 36. This compares with an average age of almost 31 for women who conceive naturally.
The regulator’s report shows that patients in heterosexual relationships accounted for about 90% of IVF patients in 2021.
The number of IVF patients in female same-sex relationships increased from 1,649 in 2019 to 2,201 in 2021 (a 33% rise) and single parents rose from 2,001 in 2019 to 2,888 in 2021 (a 44% rise).
This means single patients and patients in female same-sex relationships had the biggest increase in IVF use from 2019 to 2021.
When it comes to success in getting pregnant using the patient’s own eggs, the average overall IVF pregnancy rate using fresh embryos increased from 10% per embryo transferred in 1991 to 29% in 2021.
Patients aged between 18 and 34 had the highest pregnancy rate per embryo transferred at 41% in 2021. Meanwhile, pregnancy rates per embryo transferred increased from 8% in 1991 to 33% for patients aged 35-37, and was 25% for patients aged 38-39 in 2021.
For patients aged 40-42, the pregnancy rate per embryo transferred increased from 6% in 1991 to 16% in 2021. For patients aged 43-50, the pregnancy rate per embryo transferred increased from 1% in 1991 to 6% in 2021.
Live birth rates per embryo transferred have increased from 7% in 1991 to 25% in 2021 for patients aged 35-37 and from 6% in 1991 to 17% in 2021 for patients aged 38-39.
For those aged 40-42, the live birth rate per embryo is 10% but plummets for women aged 43 and over.
Meanwhile, the average IVF pregnancy rate using frozen embryo transfers has increased from about 7% in the 1990s to 36% in 2021. The average IVF birth rate using frozen embryo transfers also increased from about 6% in the 1990s to 27% in 2021.
Julia Chain, the chair of the HFEA, said: “Overall, the new HFEA report paints a promising picture. It shows treatment numbers are back at pre-pandemic levels and thanks to improved clinical and laboratory practice, over time pregnancy rates are increasing.
“Despite the pandemic being declared officially over, the aftershocks are still being felt as delays across other areas of healthcare prevent some patients accessing fertility services.
“Our report shows that the average age of IVF patients has increased to 36, around five years older than mothers who get pregnant naturally and these aftershocks could mean that the average age of an IVF patient continues to rise.
“Although pregnancy rates have increased, the likelihood of success decreases with age. For some patients, this may mean they never get the baby they hoped for and that’s heartbreaking.”
More patients than ever before are paying privately for IVF. The number of IVF cycles funded by the NHS continued to vary across the UK with an overall 16% decrease to 20,000 cycles in 2021 from about 24,000 in 2019.