IVF-Conceived Kids Not at Risk of Developmental Delays, Study Says
The once-controversial fertility treatment has grown exponentially in popularity over recent decades due to its high success rate. Today, about 2 percent of births each year in the United States are conceived with assisted reproductive technology (ART), which includes IVF, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, concerns about the development of children conceived through IVF persist. Previous studies suggested there could be developmental effects associated with IVF, though more research is needed to better understand long-term outcomes for IVF-conceived kids.
A new study from Australia challenges fears about disorders and delays caused by IVF. The study indicated there was not a higher developmental delay risk among IVF-conceived children when compared with other forms of conception.
About the study
Researchers pulled data on 585,659 children born in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2014. Of the participants, 11,059 children were conceived via IVF; the rest were conceived spontaneously.
The research team divided the kids into two age groups: ages 4 to 6 and ages 7 to 9. The first group—ages 4 to 6—was evaluated in six different developmental categories, including physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, communication skills and general knowledge.
The second group—ages 7 to 9—was assessed based on educational skills, such as grammar and punctuation, reading, writing, spelling and numeracy.
In developmental and educational categories, researchers uncovered no differences between IVF kids and spontaneously conceived children.
"These findings provide reassurance for current and prospective parents, as well as clinicians who are involved in IVF," the researchers wrote.
IVF is one of the most powerful and successful treatments for infertility, according to Aaron K. Styer, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and founding partner and co-medical director at CCRM Boston.
"During IVF, the ovaries are stimulated with injectable hormones to make multiple eggs at once," Styer explained. "Those eggs will be removed from the ovaries during a quick, minimally invasive surgery, egg retrieval, with light sedation."
The egg is fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilized egg, called an embryo, can be transferred to the uterus to begin a pregnancy or frozen for future use, Styer said.
Risks associated with IVF
As with all medical procedures, IVF is associated with risks—both to the aspiring mother and the potential baby.
Risks to the mother include complications during egg retrieval or embryo transfer.
Serious complications during egg retrieval are rare, occurring less than 2 percent of the time, Styer said. Risks include damage to surrounding pelvic organs, injury to nearby blood vessels, twisting of the ovaries, blood clots and infection.
Serious complications with an embryo transfer are rare and happen less than 1 percent of the time, Styer noted. Risks include pelvic infection and cramping, and ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus, requiring medical or surgical removal, he said.
As for risks to a future baby, Styer said further research is needed to understand the probability of developmental delays, birth defects and other complications in IVF-conceived children.
"In general, the risk of any birth defect for a baby conceived without any fertility therapy is approximately 3 percent," he said. "The risk of any birth defect may be slightly higher in babies conceived with IVF and may be approximately 3½ percent to 4 percent."
IVF is an involved process that can take a toll on an aspiring parent, both physically and emotionally.
"Before beginning treatment, patients should ensure that they have a support network to help them during the process if needed," Styer advised.