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IVF, ICSI Babies as Healthy as Others

Children Conceived With Infertility Treatments Just as Healthy in the Long Run

WebMD Health News

July 2, 2003 -- Babies born with the assistance of the infertility treatments in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) don't face any more health problems than babies conceived by natural means, according to the longest-running study to date.

Researchers say the study provides the most comprehensive evidence so far that IVF and ICSI procedures are safe.

Fears Laid to Rest

"Overall, the results are reassuring and lay to rest the fears that have been expressed about the health and welfare of children conceived though IVF and ICSI," says researcher Christina Bergh, of Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Göteborg, Sweden, in a news release. Bergh presented the results of the study today at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Madrid, Spain.

IVF is a procedure in which women take drugs to stimulate egg production; eggs and sperm are collected and combined in a test tube or laboratory dish, and then inserted in her uterus to develop. ICSI involves directly injecting each collected egg with a single sperm by hand prior to inserting the fertilized egg into the woman's body.

The study involved 440 children conceived using IVF, 541 children conceived with ICSI, and 542 naturally conceived children and followed them until age 5. Researchers compared rates of problems experienced by the children in the following areas:

  • Birth health and obstetrical complications
  • Birth defects or malformations
  • Family relationships
  • Physical development
  • Mental, psychological, and social development

No major differences in birth weight, growth, total IQ, motor development, and behavior problems or parental stress were found between the children conceived with infertility treatments and those conceived naturally.

But some minor differences were found in these areas:

  • ICSI mothers and fathers were more committed to their role as parents than others.
  • Hospital admission rates were slightly higher for ICSI and IVF babies than naturally conceived babies, although the rate of medical illnesses across the three groups was similar.
  • The rate of birth defects was 6.2% and 4.1% for ICSI and IVF babies, respectively, compared with 2.4% among naturally conceived babies. The rates were statistically different only when comparing ICSI children with naturally conceived children, and not by IVF. These differences in malformations were also more commonly seen in boys than in girls. Researchers say all the birth defects were correctable and the children went on to be as normal and healthy as others.

Infertile Couples Are Different

Experts also say that the fact these couples experience more birth defects might reflect factors other than the safety of the procedures. Infertile couples are different than those who get pregnant naturally, and some of those things may predispose them to other problems.

For example, Brian Kaplan, MD, reproductive endrocrinologist at the Fertility Centers of Illinois, says infertile couples are already a high-risk group for birth defects and other congential problems for a number of reasons. They usually are older than the general population and are more likely to have multiple pregnancies, which are both known to increase the risk of abnormalities.

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