How Healthy Are IVF Babies?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Morgan Hank / Getty Images / Photo Researchers RM

Millions of babies have been born via in vitro fertilization (IVF), and researchers are just starting to document some of the lasting effects the process may have on early development.

The ability to shift fertilization into a lab dish has revolutionized infertility treatment, and rewritten some of the basic tenets of reproduction. But does IVF make children more vulnerable to certain cognitive or other developmental issues? In the largest study to date looking at the connection between IVF procedures and neurological disorders, scientists found a small but significant risk of intellectual disabilities among twins and triplets, though not among singleton births.

The researchers studied 2.5 million Swedish children, and compared those born via IVF with those who were conceived naturally. About 47 in 100,000 infants born from IVF developed cognitive deficits, such as low IQ or problems in communicating or socializing with others, compared with 40 in 100,000 among naturally conceived children.

“For IVF there are known risks already, such as birth defects and cancer, and now mental retardation should perhaps be added,” says the study’s lead author Sven Sandin of King’s College in London.

Specific procedures, such as IVF that involved more manipulation of the sperm to promote fertilization, were more likely to be associated with higher rates of neurological issues than IVF without it. That suggests that male-based fertility issues may have a stronger correlation with later cognitive deficits. “That brings us to consider that there might be some genetics involved in severe male-factor [infertility], but it is extremely important for my patients with male-factor [infertility] not to freak out and think they are the significant risk. The total number of babies with problems with IVF, and even male factor, are small,” says Dr. Avner Hershlag, chief of the Center for Human Reproduction at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., who was not involved with the study.

(MORE: Frontiers of Fertility)

In addition, when the scientific team focused just on singleton births, the link to intellectual deficits was no longer significant. That confirms previous studies that identified a greater risk of birth defects and developmental problems among multiple births, which are more common with IVF since doctors often transfer several embryos during a cycle, to improve a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant. “I call it the epidemic of multiple births that our field has created by transferring multiple embryos into the uterus. It has brought up a lot of medical and health issues for the babies as well as for the moms,” says Hershlag. To avoid the added risks associated with multiple births, many centers now only transfer one to three embryos at a time.

Other improvements in the IVF process may also reduce any added risks that the procedure could pose for development. Doctors now have more sophisticated ways of identifying the most robust embryos for transfer, and are able to manipulate the timing of fertilization to better mimic natural conception.

(MORE: Baby Contest: Couples Compete for Free IVF — Is This Exploitation or Generosity?)

Still, with the first babies born through IVF now reaching their mid-30s, more studies are examining what the lasting legacy of IVF might be. In October, research presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans found that among 4,795 babies born after IVF and 46,025 infants who were conceived naturally, 3,463 babies developed congenital birth defects. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the IVF treatments are responsible. In a study from March, for example, researchers reported that neurological problems among IVF babies were more likely brought about by factors related to infertility and not the treatments themselves.

Sandin says despite the slightly increased relative risk he and his team found when comparing IVF and naturally conceived children, the absolute risk of problems with IVF remain small. And most of the added problems appeared to be associated with certain infertility procedures. “The risk should however be considered, together with the clinician, to be treatment-specific,” he says.

(MORE: Study Clarifies Link Between Fertility Treatments and Neurological Problems in Kids)

About 5 million kids worldwide have been born from IVF, says Hershlag, and most are healthy. “I am not aware of a case of mental retardation or autism in babies resulting from our treatment,” he says. “However, this study is very welcome because it is a very significant attempt to answer some important questions.” Sandin hopes the results will trigger more studies into the longer-term effects of IVF on a range of health issues. Based on the available data, “in general we tell parents that IVF is safe and to a large degree, babies born from IVF are healthy and grow into healthy adults,” says Hershlag. With more studies, however, this reassurance can be backed by even more solid scientific evidence.

The study is published in the journal JAMA.

17 comments
NelsonPamela
NelsonPamela

Hello everybody, My name is Nelson Pamela, Am from USA, Me and my husband have been trying to have baby for over two years now, We were going to a fertility clinic for about 1year and 8months before someone told us to contact this great spell caster who is so powerful, We contacted him with his email: supersolutionhome@gmail.com , for him to help us, then we told him our problem, he told us that i will either conceive in May 2013 or June 2013, but after two years of trying we were at a point where we were willing to do possible to make us get a baby even if is just one. And I’m glad we came to Dr. Ken, Because he predictions put us at ease, and I honestly believe him, and his gods really helped us as well, I am thankful for all he has done. If you are in this kind of problem i will advice you to contact him with this email:  supersolutionhome@gmail.com  or through His web address http://supersolutionhome.webs.com/ .  "The ability to have a baby is one of the most amazing gifts ever given to humans.  The act of carrying a baby and being pregnant is one of the most beautiful experiences to ever have. Thanks.

JaniferKathrine
JaniferKathrine

My name is kathrine, I am from UK I want to share my experience on  how I got my baby, despite the doctor said I couldn't have any, because of my health, I was Barry since the year 2008 I could not give birth to babies, until one of my family friend introduce a GREAT SPELL CASTER to me called DR LAWCY, I never knew DR LAWCY could even solve my problems, when I contacted him despite the situation on ground he told me that he is going to help me, and he gave to me some herbs to take and casted some spell on me, all thanks to GOD that sent DR LAWCY to me, just after three months I became pregnant for me husband, now I am a mother of three children, I want to thank DR LAWCY for his good work, if you are out there passing through this same problem, you can also contact him on DRLAWCYSPELLHOME@GMAIL.COM and I pray to GOD that same way he helped me, he shall help you also, thanks for part of my testimony..

kellyjayne87
kellyjayne87

I am the product of IVF. My mother was naturally pregnant with twins and had an ectopic pregnancy, which was not detected in time and shattered her fallopian tubes. IVF was my parents only chance at having their own child. I am now 26, a licensed CPA, I am married, have a child of my own on the way, run half marathons, and have never been on prescription medication in my life. Yes, IVF comes with health risks. In fact, my mother just passed away at the young age of 58 from inflammatory breast cancer. Did the massive amount of hormones she received play a role in that? Perhaps. But as she was laying on her death bed, she told me that she wouldn't have done it any differently, and that I was the best thing that had ever happened to her, no matter what. If reproductive treatments aren't for you, that's fine. Everyone has an opinion, and they are entitled to live their life based on their opinions. Again, if reproductive therapies aren't for you, then don't do it. But don't call IVF children walking lab rats, or walking science experiments. This is not Frankenstein medicine - this is another example of medical breakthroughs that change people's lives. Would you say the chemotherapy is Frankenstein medicine? More and more research is showing cancer is ancient ancestors, but of course they didn't have such modern drugs back then. Would you recommend that we stop giving cancer patients chemotherapy because the world is overpopulated? 

pendragon05
pendragon05

Nature has ways of balancing herself - ways that the human race, no matter how hard it tries, cannot overcome. More and more men and women are becoming infertile for the very reason of severe human overpopulation. We are approaching 9 billion people on the planet. That is far too many people. Here alone in the USA: 318 million. That is far too many people. IVF is not natural. Frankenstein medicine is going to end up with serious consequences no matter how hard lab specialists try to eliminate them.  Having a baby just to satisfy a selfish lust is not going to benefit the parents or the child.

SonnyZheng
SonnyZheng

for a such an informative read. the comments are lacking in reason and logic, more leaning to wards feeling and spiritual knowledge. 

punkakes13
punkakes13

usually the body knows whats best

punkakes13
punkakes13

in vitro isnot ok with me, because these women r uncapable for a reason.. maybe its not just the fertilization process, but in fact, tjeir body blocked them for reprodution because they got someting else.. sorry ahahaha

i hope i dontn have this

punkakes13
punkakes13

i wanna  a baby who is smarter than me, i wouldnt liek to deal with dislexia and such things, it would be very disappointing to me, because i got no patience to it.. i wanted a nerd or something...

also, having babies to old is risky too..i think

i think i have a huge head because my mom had me at her 36 or somethings... naturally thought, but too late

DerekZary
DerekZary

What I wonder may be what they did not consider - Love - we know it's in us - we know it can effect everything - even down to the tiniest molecule - so could a test be flawed by lets say an egg or sperm that lacked love ? I wonder , and how would one fix that ? - That brings up vibrations - if light is where everything began - and vibrations and sounds (same thing) affects it -makes one think - what is loves vibration? 

12999
12999

This is reckless journalism because you did not include any statistics QUANTIFYING the risks.  Saying that "among 4,795 babies born after IVF and 46,025 infants who were conceived naturally, 3,463 babies developed congenital birth defects" tells us nothing - how many of those 3.463 babies came from the IVF group and how many came from the natural conception group?  You have a responsibility to report stories responsibly which means quantifying these risks for those who are contemplating IVF.  


Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/07/05/how-healthy-are-ivf-babies/#ixzz2YBzJ4IvS

Denesius
Denesius

As an infertility specialist, I will personally vouch for the fact that I would not recommend ICSI for any of my family members. In nature, the egg is sterilized by one sperm: the sole champion out of the billions that start the attempt.  During the ICSI portion of IVF the egg is fertilized by a single sperm, selected by the technician based on very superficial visual criteria.  Odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the fact that it won't be the smartest, most vigorous, healthiest, or carrying the fewest detrimental DNA mutations.

juanluque
juanluque

@NelsonPamela how awful to advertise this ridiculous service using people frustration and faking a review. Just awful 

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@punkakes13 So by that logic, since my "body knows best", I should throw out my glasses and go nearsighted through my life?  And when I get sick, I should accept that my "body knows best" and take no medication? 

Sorry, but we don't use that logic in any other part of our lives.  I fail to see "body knows best" as a compelling reason why we shouldn't "medicate" or "technologize" child-bearing, either.

kellyjayne87
kellyjayne87

@punkakes13 based on your posts, having a baby who is smarter than you wouldn't be challenging. You do know that naturally conceived children have dislexia, learning disabilities and mental retardation, don't you?

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@Denesius Possibly, but then, keep in mind that it's equally possible that the natural sperm might not REALLY be the "best", either.  Just good enough and lucky enough to make it first.  After all, a lot of kids are naturally born with birth defects and such, wouldn't you agree?  So it's also quite possible for the "wrong" sperm to fertilize the egg naturally, too.

I surely won't claim that well-meaning but imperfect technicians are getting "the best" sperm every time -- or even ANY time, maybe.  But as this article notes, in the vast, vast majority of cases, IVF children are born just as healthy as naturally-conceived ones.  That makes it really hard to claim that the precise sperm is crucial.  For parents who physically cannot have ANY child without IVF, getting the second or tenth best sperm is a lot better than getting none at all, keep in mine.

Feel free to cite your statistically-documented evidence countering this article at any time, of course.  But until you do, I'll take what you said as purely emotional opinion, with no evidence whatsoever behind it.  I hope others do the same, despite your claim to be an infertility specialist.  (Actually, one wonders why you went into that field, if you distrust the results so much.  A bit dishonest, isn't that?)

Denesius
Denesius

@JenniferBonin @Denesius Your response was intelligent and showed good insight, unfortunately until the last comment  "...dishonest....". Really? Maybe I do infertility counseling & procedures up to but not including ICSI. And I never said IVF- I was referring to ICSI.  And what does 'honesty' have to do with anything, anyway? And who's being emotional now?

As to your first comment- it's not absolute. You're right on both counts. Don't forget there's 2 sets of DNA in a baby. Issues can arise from the mother as well as the father, as well as spontaneous, or as a result of the combination of the two. This forum is not the place to spell it all out- look it up.

And while you're at it, do a search on cognitive development of ICSI babies versus NC or plain IVF. Multiple studies of development in Scandinavian countries (where the detailed medical records of the population are available) have demonstrated delayed &/or less than expected cognitive development & milestone achievements in these babies. Even if an ICSI baby ends up with an IQ of 100 (average), there's no way to determine if the potential IQ would have been 110 or 115 with plain IVF or NC. There is however, evidence that these babies are - OVERALL, not individually - somewhat less achievers. You want a genetic offspring that bad, go for it. No one is saying 'no'. Just have all the info at hand.