Feb. 7, 2023 – In vitro fertilization has been around long enough that researchers can now compare developmental and academic achievements between these children and peers at school age.
Amber Kennedy, MBBS, and colleagues did just that. They found little difference in these milestones between a total of 11,059 IVF-conceived children and 401,654 spontaneously conceived children in a new study.
“Parents considering IVF and health care professionals can be reassured that the school age developmental and educational outcomes of IVF-conceived children are equivalent to their peers,” says Kennedy, lead author and obstetrician and gynecologist at Mercy Hospital for Women at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
The findings were published online Jan. 24 in the journal PLOS Medicine.
“Overall, we know that children born through IVF are doing fine in terms of health, but also emotionally and cognitively. So I wasn't surprised. I live in this world,” says Ariadna Cymet Lanski, PsyD, chair of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Mental Health Professional Group, who was not affiliated with the study.
Some previous researchers linked conception via IVF to an increased risk of congenital abnormalities, autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, and intellectual disability.
Asked why the current study did not find increased risks, Kennedy says, “Our population included a relatively recent birth cohort, which may explain some differences from previous studies as IVF practices have evolved over time.”
An estimated 8 million people worldwide have been conceived through IVF since the first birth in 1978, the researchers says. In Australia, this has grown from 2% of births in the year 2000 to now nearly 5% or 1 in 20 live births, Kennedy says. “Consequently, it is important to understand the longer-term outcomes for this population of children.”
Along with senior author Anthea Lindquist, MBBS, Kennedy and colleagues studied 585,659 single births in Victoria, Australia, between 2005 and 2014. They did not include multiple births like twins or triplets.
The investigators compared 4,697 children conceived via IVF and 168,503 others conceived spontaneously using a standard developmental measure, the Australian Early Developmental Census (AEDC). They also assessed 8,976 children in the IVF group and 333,335 other children on a standard educational measure, the National Assessment Program–Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).
For example, the developmental census measures developmental vulnerability. Kennedy and colleagues found a 0.3% difference in favor of IVF-conceived children, which statistically was no different than zero.
Similarly, the researchers report that IVF conception had essentially no effect on overall the literacy score, with an adjusted average difference of 0.03.
Lanski says the results should be reassuring for people considering IVF. “I can see the value of the study." The findings “probably brings a lot of comfort ... if you want to build a family and medically this is what's recommended.”
Not all IVF techniques are the same, and the researches want to take a deeper dive to evaluate any distinctions among them. For example, Kennedy says, “We plan to investigate the same school-aged outcomes after specific IVF-associated techniques.”