In vitro fertilization (IVF) — the implantation of fertilized eggs in a woman's uterus — offers hope for couples unsuccessful in conceiving naturally. However, Finnish researchers found that children born via IVF experience more health problems than kids conceived naturally.
Researchers tracked the health of 4,559 kids born between 1996 and 1999, including the type of delivery and the child's weight at birth. Because Finland has a national health care system, they were able to determine the number of kids who'd received medical care or disability payments for chronic conditions, including allergies, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, diarrhea, arthritis, pneumonia, or psychological disorders. Researchers then compared the health of kids born via IVF with the health of those conceived naturally.
Compared with other moms, those who gave birth via IVF needed much more hospital care during pregnancy. IVF moms also had a higher rate of cesarean births.
Overall, most kids born via IVF were healthy. But compared with those conceived naturally, children born via IVF had a higher death rate, a higher rate of institutionalization for severe disabilities, and a higher percentage of child disabilities. IVF kids had a threefold increased risk of cerebral palsy and were more likely to have behavioral or emotional disorders, compared with kids conceived naturally. IVF kids were also more likely to require hospitalization.
The poorer outcomes in IVF children are due in part to the high percentage of multiple births, the study authors say. Reducing the number of transplanted embryos may improve the health of kids born via IVF, they suggest.
What This Means to You
Babies born via IVF may use more hospital services; have an increased risk of infection, asthma, and cerebral palsy; and may be prone to behavior problems and accidents, compared with children conceived naturally. However, much of the increase in risk for specific diseases in this study appeared to be related to the higher rates of multiple births resulting from IVF pregnancies. If you're considering IVF to conceive a child, you should talk with your reproductive endocrinologist about the health risks and what you can do to help prevent them.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2006
Source: Reija Klemetti, MHSc; Tiina Sevon; Mika Gissler, DrPhil, MSocSc; Elina Hemminki, MD; Pediatrics, November 2006.