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Infertility & Reproduction Health Center

IVF Babies and Major Birth Defects

Researchers Say Risk of Serious Birth Defects Is Similar to What Is Seen Among Natural Conceptions
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Major malformations were more common among children born at low birth weights, but not those born prematurely, the study showed. Parental age at conception did not influence the rate of birth defects.

“Fertility doctors must be informed about the increased risks of imprinting disorders and major malformations because if couples raise questions specifically on this topic, they have to answer as precisely as possible,” Geraldine B. Viot, MD, a clinical geneticist at the Maternité Port Royal Hospital, Paris, France, says in an email. Imprinting disorders occur because of a mutation in a gene inherited from either the mother or the father.

“I'm not sure that women and men undergoing [fertility treatment] should be informed systematically about these risks, as couples having children naturally ignore the risk of major malformations,” she says.

What’s more, “our results are not so different from the general population and I consider them rather reassuring as some previously reported studies showed increased risk of major malformations around 9% to 11%,” she says.

Low Overall Risk of Birth Defects With IVF

Zev Rosenwaks, MD, the director of Perelman/Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, tells WebMD that more information is needed before any conclusions can be drawn about risks associated with assisted reproductive technology.

The rate of multiple pregnancies is often higher in children born after fertility treatment, he says. “Multiples have higher rates of abnormalities, and this may have affected the findings,” he says.

Counseling about possible risks associated with fertility treatment and informed consent are an important part of the fertility treatment process, he says.

“On our first visit, we review the risks,” he says. “I tell them they have to basically look at what their risk truly is and then determine whether they would choose not to have a baby or choose to have a baby despite a possible increased risk of certain birth defects.”

Not all birth defects are considered serious, he says.

“Angioma is a minor abnormality that can disappear,” he says.

“Even in the worst case scenario, the risk [of birth defects] is low,” says Jamie Grifo, MD, PhD, program director of New York University Fertility Center in New York City. “Your risk may be higher because you are infertile or because you are being treated for infertility, but it is still a low number,” he tells WebMD.

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