Small Risks in Fertility Treatment

IVF babies have slightly higher risk of birth defects

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Difficulty in becoming pregnant leads some couples to seek fertility treatments. Any medical intervention involves risks and benefits that patients should consider.

A recent study found a slightly higher risk of birth defects among babies conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF). The most likely congenital problems to show up among babies conceived with IVF were eye, heart and genital or urinary birth defects.

The increased defect risk was very small but not due to chance.

"Fertility questions? Ask your OB/GYN."

The study, led by Lorraine I. Kelley-Quon, MD, from Mattel Children's Hospital at the David Geffen School of Medicine within the University of California at Los Angeles, involved looking at the rate of birth defects in children conceived with and without IVF in California.

Using data from the 2006-2007 California Linked Birth Cohort Dataset, Dr. Kelley-Quon and colleagues identified babies conceived with the help of IVF, fertility-enhancing drugs, artificial insemination and intrauterine insemination.

Then they matched these babies to infants conceived without fertility treatments in terms of each baby's gender, year of birth and the mother's age, the number of children she already had and her race/ethnicity. They also took into account multiple births.

The number of children studied included 4,795 babies born after IVF and 46,025 babies who were conceived naturally.

A total of 3,463 babies across both groups had major birth defects, and the rate was almost three percentage points higher for babies born after IVF.

However, it was not higher for babies born after use of other fertility-related services, such as fertility-enhancing drugs or artificial/intrauterine insemination.

The rate among naturally conceived babies was 6.6 percent, compared to 9 percent of IVF babies. The difference is small but statistically unlikely to be due to chance.

Eye defects were just slightly higher among IVF babies (0.3 percent) compared to babies born without IVF (0.2 percent).

Birth defects related to the head and neck occurred at a rate of 1 percent among IVF babies compared to 0.7 percent of babies conceived without IVF.

Heart defects occurred in 4.8 percent of babies born after IVF, compared to 3 percent of babies born without IVF.

Defects in the genital/urinary systems occurred in 1.5 percent of IVF babies, compared to 1 percent of non-IVF babies.

However, one type of defect was actually slightly more common in naturally conceived babies.

Chromosomal abnormalities occurred at a rate of 0.2 percent in babies born with IVF, but the rate was 0.5 percent among babies born without IVF.

"For parents considering in vitro fertilization or other forms of assisted reproductive technology, it is important  they understand and discuss with their doctor the potential risks of the procedure before making a decision," Dr Kelley-Quon wrote.

The study was presented October 20 at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans. No information was available regarding funding or disclosures.

The study results are preliminary and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 23, 2012
Last Updated:
October 29, 2012