A new study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, shows that babies conceived through certain fertility treatment techniques (assisted reproductive technologies or ART) are approximately one-third more likely to develop a birth defect than babies conceived naturally.
The researchers involved in this study have not determined why the fertility treatments lead to higher risk of birth defects or whether or not this technology is even the cause at all.
For more than three decades, women who have been unable to become pregnant have turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF). This procedure is made possible by fertilizing the mother’s egg outside of her body and then transferring the egg to her womb for the duration of pregnancy. For many years, researchers have studied the possible dangers of IVF.
Dr. Zhibin Hu and colleagues at the Nanjing Medical University have collected the results of 46 studies, comparing the number of birth defects among children conceived using an IVF technique to children conceived naturally.
For more than 124,000 children born through IVF procedures, or using ICSI, a procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into the mother’s egg, the risk of having a birth defect was 37 percent higher than that of the other children, as found from these studies.
Additional data reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, major birth defects, such as malformation of an organ or a limb, can occur in approximately three out of every 100 babies born in the U.S.
William Buckett, professor at McGill University, stated, “(The report) confirms what most people accepted anyway, that, yes, there is an increased risk in congenital abnormality associated with assisted reproductive technology.”
The authors of these studies reported that increased birth defect risks were apparent across a range of functions and body systems, including the genitals, skeleton, digestive system, and the nervous system.
The main question still remains unanswered: why most studies find birth defects to be more common among IVF-conceived babies. It could be possible that the IVF techniques, the handling of the fragile embryos, or the chemicals that accompany the fertility treatments, may have something to do with these defects.
A question Dr. Buckett raised is, whether these birth defects only appear to be more prevalent in IVF babies because they are so closely monitored? “Couples who have had babies born as a result of IVF are followed up more closely, and therefore subtle abnormalities may be detected that otherwise might not have been detected.”
Unfortunately, as far as reducing the risks of birth defects for parents using IVF, it is too early to b determined, since the reasons accounting for the risk are still largely unknown.
For the parents who long for a child of their own, they are willing to take the risk and hope for a healthy child. Their chances of producing a healthy child are high. In the past 30 years, so many children have been brought into this world via in vitro fertilization, and for so many couples, being able to have their own child is worth the risk. Hopefully, they will soon find out what causes the increase in birth defects.