Daily Dispatches
An embryologist works on a petri dish at the Create Health fertility clinic in south London.
Associated Press/Photo by Sang Tan
An embryologist works on a petri dish at the Create Health fertility clinic in south London.

Does IVF make unhealthy babies?


Last week the British Medical Journal dropped a grenade into the already exploding world of infertility medicine with findings that babies produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) have increased health risks.

“Otherwise healthy children conceived by IVF may have higher blood pressure, adiposity, glucose levels, and more generalised vascular dysfunction than children conceived naturally,” the study’s authors wrote. This is in addition to the known increased risks to the mothers when multiple births are involved, the authors said: “Multiple pregnancies are associated with maternal and perinatal complications such as gestational diabetes, fetal growth restriction, and pre-eclampsia as well as premature birth.And even singletons born through IVF have been shown to have worse outcomes than those conceived naturally.”

Just last July, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published another study from Sweden showing an increase in autism and mental retardation in children produced by a specific IVF method used to help infertile men—Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection.

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These problems are eclipsed by the untold numbers of excess, unwanted frozen embryos that have been discarded as a result of the IVF process. While these studies don’t mention this IVF side effect, it is considered fatal by all who believe that life begins at conception.

Worldwide, 3 million IVF babies have been born since 2005. U.S. IVF procedures are up from 90,000 in 2000 to more than 150,000 in 2010. IVF was originally developed in 1972 for women with fallopian tube problems and men with severe sperm dysfunction. Once an infrequent and miraculous answer for infertile couples, IVF is becoming commonplace.

No longer reserved for the desperately infertile, IVF is being used for a new group of patients—the “subfertile.” These couples are not necessarily incapable of having a baby, but conception may take longer than they are willing to wait. Now doctors say that impatience may come with a price.

Having babies has always been risky. Modern medicine has significantly decreased the risk but not eliminated it entirely. Couples still choose to accept some risk with the hope of starting a family. Infertile couples are no different. But, the British Medical Journal article ends with a carefully worded warning: “As a society we face a choice. We can continue to offer early, non-evidence based access to IVF to couples with fertility problems or follow a more challenging path to prove interventions are effective and safe and to optimise the IVF procedure. We owe it to all subfertile couples and their potential children to use IVF judiciously and to ensure that we are first doing no harm.”

Mark Russell
Mark Russell

Mark is a freelance writer and practicing physician living in Hot Springs, Arkansas with the love of his life who also happens to be his wife of 39 years. Follow Mark on Twitter @msrmd.


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