The link between fertility treatments and birth defects

Amy Hendel Health Guide
  • When you want a baby and it doesn't happen, life can seem impossibly cruel.  So when research applications helped to achieve a baby, even in the face of serious fertility issues, it was considered a miracle by most couples struggling to have that precious gift of a baby.  Unfortunately, many solutions have their own inherent risks and problems.  That seems to be the result of a new study in the journal, Human Reproduction, which found that babies conceived with techniques commonly used in fertility clinics are 2- 4 times more likely to have birth defects, than infants conceived naturally.


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    The study mostly looked at "single" babies conceived through these fertility issues and the three most common birth defects found were:

    - Heart problems

    - Cleft lip

    - Abnormalities in the rectum or esophagus


    To put the findings in perspective, the overall risks were still somewhat low - even though the statistics doubled.  So for example, cleft lip typically occurs with an incidence of 1 in 950 births; with fertility intervention - the incidence became 1 in 425.  And specifically the procedures associated with the increased birth defect risk were procedures like in-vitro fertilization, where the sperm and egg are being manipulated outside the body.  The increased risk was not seen by women just taking fertility drugs or by those who had no actual fertility procedures performed.


    The study researchers also want it made clear that if there is indeed a "connection" noted - they are not clear whether the actual procedures are at fault or the infertility itself is contributing to this heightened risk.  The researchers also felt that fertility doctors would be "hard pressed to believe the findings" and might object to the small number of patients involved (281 women).  The doctors involved in the study agree that more research needs to be done and they also point out that higher risks do exist with multiple births.


    From a personal perspective, my husband and I required "intervention" for our second child.  We tried to get pregnant for about 2 years, assuming that there would be no problem - after all, I had a relatively easy time getting pregnant the first time.  apparently my husband developed a problem in the years after our daughter was born; insemination was the answer for us - though it took 4 inseminations for the "miracle" to occur.  Women who are contemplating pregnancy and require fertility intervention should be aware of the risks.  In 2005 about 52,000 infants were born in the US as a result of in vitro fertilization and related procedures.  Currently about 12 percent of women ages 15 to 44 seek fertility treatments in the US.

Published On: November 18, 2008