IVF birth defects may be decreasing

The prevalence of birth defects in IVF babies may be decreasing, a major study from Western Australia suggests. In an article published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers compared data from between the years 1994 and 1998 to 1998 and 2002. They found that nearly 11% of babies conceived with IVF and ICSI had a birth defect diagnosed by age six in the first 5 years, but only about 7.5% in the second.

What underlies the change? Lead author Michele Hansen, of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, told Reuters Health that she did not know, although the results were very encouraging.

"It is very difficult to assess the impact of each of these changes on birth defect risk, however, we believe that changes to laboratory practice... changes to the medications used for ovarian stimulation requiring lower doses and shorter stimulation periods; together with a decrease in the number of embryos transferred may all have had a positive impact on the 'health' of embryos transferred in ART treatments.  

"Whilst our study does still show that babies born using Assisted Reproductive Technology remain at a higher risk of birth defects, couples seeking ART treatment can be reassured that the vast majority of ART infants are born healthy and do not have a birth defect.”

The study analysed 207,000 births, including 1,328 babies conceived through IVF and 633 by ICSI and some pregnancies which were terminated because of birth defects.

Nonetheless, the difference was still stark. Major birth defects, including cleft lip, hip dysplasia and malformations of the heart, abdominal wall and genitals, affected about 8% of singleton babies conceived through IVF and ICSI, compared to about 5% of babies conceived naturally.

This article is published by Michael Cook and BioEdge.org under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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