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Assisted Reproduction: No Birth Defect Risk

But Women Who Conceive With Help From Medical Science May Have More Pregnancy Complications

ART and Pregnancy Complications

Pregnancy complications that were found to be associated with assisted reproduction included:

  • Placenta previa. Women who underwent IVF were six times more likely to develop the condition, in which the placenta is implanted either too near the cervix or may partially or completely cover it. The cervix is the opening to the womb. Heavy cervical bleeding is a common complication, and surgical delivery is generally required.
  • IVF patients were 2.7 times more likely to develop preeclampsia, a sharp, potentially dangerous increase in the mother's blood pressure.
  • Women who had IVF or ovulation induction were 2.4 times more likely to experience premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, a condition known as placental abruption.
  • IVF patients were 2.3 times more likely to require cesarean deliveries.

Though each of these complications carries risks for both mother and baby, they are all highly treatable with careful monitoring, Shevell tells WebMD.

The one exception is fetal loss after 24 weeks' gestation, which was seen twice as often among women who had ovulation induction as among women who conceived naturally.

Is Treatment the Cause?

It is not known why women treated with ART are at higher risk, but there is a high suspicion that the same medical issues that contribute to infertility contribute to pregnancy complications.

"It should not be surprising that women who had a medical problem that made it difficult for them to get pregnant also had problems once they became pregnant," says William Gibbons, MD, who is president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.

ART procedures are commonly performed on women who have no identified cause for their infertility, University of Vermont gynecology professor Julia Johnson, MD, tells WebMD.

"Since we don't have a good understanding of what causes their infertility, the fact that these women may have complications in pregnancy is not too surprising," she says.

The experts agreed that women considering ART should be counseled about the risk of pregnancy complications. But Shevell tells WebMD that pregnancies that result from treatment should not automatically be considered high risk.

"These are patients who need to be treated with a little more scrutiny during pregnancy," she says. "But most general ob-gyns are comfortable treating these conditions, and outcomes are generally good."

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