10 January 2014

Health of children conceived via IVF

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Melbourne IVF

A recent Australian study on babies conceived between 1986 and 2002 through assisted reproductive therapies such as IVF and ICSI has found that babies are at a greater risk of serious complications, including stillborn and premature birth, than those conceived naturally.

Dr Manuela Toledo, Fertility Specialist from Melbourne IVF said: “The results of this study confirm what we have known for some time; that there may be an increased risk in congenital abnormalities in children following assisted reproductive technology (ART) compared with children born following natural conception.

"There may be several underlying reasons for this association. Some of the patients who attend for IVF treatment have underlying medical conditions contributing to their infertility that can play a role in the health of their babies. We are also seeing an increasing number of women who are of advanced maternal age attending for fertility treatments.  

“It is well known that women over 38 have poorer egg quality and an increased risk of miscarriage or adverse pregnancy outcomes. We therefore strongly advise women to consider starting a family by their mid-thirties, if possible. There may also be some contributions by the laboratory process themselves”, she explained.  

This study also reports that the outcomes varied depending on the type of infertility treatment used, such as ICSI, which is a specific form of assisted reproductive treatment that is used for couples where the male has significant sperm abnormalities. Whether this outcome is due to the treatment, i.e. the laboratory process itself, or whether it is due to the inherent sperm problem that has led to the couple being unable to conceive naturally and having to use ICSI is unclear.

For many couples, male infertility may be the reason why conception is not occurring naturally and in many cases ICSI would be the only treatment option available to them.

“I encourage patients to talk directly with their fertility specialist regarding the potential health risks for children conceived via assisted reproductive technology – we are well placed to put the risks in perspective for prospective parents.

I do not believe the findings of this study should unduly alarm patients undergoing IVF or ICSI. Fortunately the majority of our patients have a healthy pregnancy and baby following their ART treatment.”

We do however recommend that all pregnant women, regardless of whether they require ART or not, have expert obstetric care during their pregnancy to minimise the risk of neonatal complications.

The study has been published in the journal PLOS One.

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