Fertility Methods Raise Risk of Birth Defects

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While previous studies suggest a slight increase in the risk of birth defects for babies conceived through assisted reproductive technologies, the risk is still extremely low.

"It would've made me a bit nervous to know that," said Cooney.

But then again, she said, she was determined to keep trying.

"I still would've done it," she said.

Now, with two sons 18 months apart, Cooney, 40, of Cleveland, says she is grateful that methods were able to help her stay pregnant.

"I always think about how hard it was to have them and how happy I am to have them," she said.

The risk of complications to a woman undergoing any type of fertility method is also extremely low, said Goldfarb.

The biggest risk to both the mother and infant is the increased chance of having twins or multiple babies, he said.

Babies born in multiple birth situations can be up to 8 times more likely to have a birth defect, including cerebral palsy, he said.

In this study, however, parents who became pregnant with twins or multiple babies had a smaller risk of birth defects than women who became pregnant with only one baby.

The method in which the embryo is prepared also affected whether the babies conceived were at risk for birth defects. In fresh embryo transfers, there was a higher risk of birth defects than using embryos that had been frozen.

Weaker embryos that go through the freezing process are less likely to survive, allowing only the stronger embryos to be implanted back into mother, according to the researchers.

The findings shouldn't discourage women from using fertility methods to help in getting pregnant, said Goldfarb. The chances of pregnancy are different for each woman, and the risks and benefits of fertility methods also varies, he said.

"The fact that the patient has had a problem getting pregnant only slightly increases the risk to having a healthy pregnancy, but going through IVF isn't going to raise that risk any further," he said.

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