New study suggests IVF births have greater risks of complications

A recent study conducted in Australia at Adelaide University is raising concerns about the maternal and fetal risks of infertility treatments. The researchers analyzed records from over 300,000 births in Australia between 1986 and 2002 and compared the number of adverse birth events after natural conception versus fertility treatments. Multiple births, which carry increased risks, were excluded from the analysis. The findings indicate that women who give birth after in vitro fertilization (IVF) are more likely to suffer from serious complications. Babies born following fertility treatments are more likely to be born prematurely, be underweight, be stillborn, or die only a few weeks after birth.

The rate of stillbirth was 1.1% for any birth using fertility treatment, compared to 0.5% for natural conception. The rate of premature birth was 7.9% compared to 4.7% with natural conception. Low birth weight was 9.4% compared with 4.7%. The rate of neo-natal death was 0.5% compared to 0.3% with natural conception. The risk of complications varied in terms of what type of treatment was used, with problems more common in births from in vitro fertilization (IVF) than intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). The researchers noted that the risks related to ICSI were reduced when frozen embryos were used.

The study leaves open the possibility that babies conceived using fertility treatments fared worse because of other reasons such as health problems, older maternal age, or whatever caused the couple to be infertile. Lead researcher Michael Davies said, “There is in all likelihood a contribution from both the treatment and patient factors.” Notably, the highest risks of complications were to a group of women who had suffered fertility problems but had conceived naturally, supporting Davies’ belief that many of the complications could have been due to the medical problems underlying their infertility.

In reviewing these findings, Dr. Dagan Wells, an Oxford University fertility expert, said:

“Although this study suggests the risk of some adverse outcomes is higher in pregnancies conceived using IVF, the overall risk of these problems remains low.”

Read more about fertility treatments here.

Read more about the study here.

Read the UK National Health Service response here. 

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