IVF treatment proven to increase risk of birth defects in children.



Clinical studies do not support the claim that assisted reproductive technology has been proven to increase the risk of birth defects.


An article in Time Health Land entitled ‘IVF Linked to More Birth Defects’ interprets the findings of a seminal research study which was presented as an oral presentation at a conference in 2012. Only limited data can be shared at oral presentations at medical conferences due to the time limitations imposed by the conference secretariat. The detailed results of the study were subsequently published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery in 2013 and this paper told the full story (2).

Dr. Kelley-Quon and colleagues from UCLA analyzed data from California’s Infant and Maternal Birth Cohort dataset to study the overall and specific birth defects associated with assisted reproductive technology and fertility related services.

Over 60,000 babies are born annually in the US with the help of assisted reproductive technology and California currently rates as the state with the highest number of infants delivered following assisted reproductive technology. The researchers identified 4,795 infants born after assisted reproductive technology between the years 2006 and 2007 and compared the rate of major congenital malformations with 46,025 naturally conceived match controls.

The dataset showed that there was a statistically significant higher rate of malformations in the assisted reproductive technology cohort as compared to matched controls. Malformations included abnormalities of the eye, head and neck and genital urinary system.

However, the increased risk of birth defects was only noted in pregnancies of multiples and not in singleton pregnancies. This means that the increased risk of birth defects was only seen when there was more than one baby conceived/born.

No increased risk of birth defects was noted in pregnancies involving just one baby.

The authors of the study acknowledged that a major limitation of the study was the fact that it was very difficult to separate out the risks of assisted reproductive technology from the underlying reproductive pathology of the infertile couple.

Earlier this year, a letter was published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery which revisited the Kelley-Quon study and updated it with some new information (1). The new publication again focused on the fact that the increased risk of birth defects was only seen for multiples while single pregnancies were not shown to be associated with an increased risk of major birth defects as compared to controls. The authors of the most recent publication highlighted the fact that twin/multiple gestations already carry a higher risk of birth defects and raised questions about the true relationship between assisted reproductive technology and birth defects. They also discussed the fact that parental medical conditions (and treatments for these conditions) that necessitated the IVF in the first place may have contributed to the birth defects.

In summary, the most up to date scientific literature does not support the claim that IVF is proven to increase the risks of birth defects and especially not in singleton pregnancies.

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