There is no denying that children conceived through IVF technologies are making their mark on the human population. In 2020, more than 73,000 babies were born after assisted reproductive technology cycles.
IVF and other infertility treatments are becoming more readily available and helping hopeful parents realize their dreams.
Though IVF and technological advancements have helped a lot of parents and families, there are still questions regarding the safety and health of babies born under these assisted reproductive techniques.
Millions of babies have been born after IVF, and they are healthy and thriving. There are theories that IVF creates a higher risk for certain health conditions; however, medical experts are still uncertain as to whether these risks are a result of IVF or simply the genes inherited from parents.
Let’s take a look at what medical experts are currently saying about the health of babies born after IVF.
The Health of IVF Babies
How does the health of an IVF baby compare to that of other babies? Are there long-term health problems associated with IVF?
Many of these questions are still being studied; however, there is some information that we can go by for now.
Overall Health of IVF Babies at Birth
There is a very high frequency of twins or other multiples as a result of IVF, which makes for a prevalence of postnatal complications, prematurity, and low birth weights.
However, despite the chance of these complications at birth, the majority of IVF babies continue to develop normally as a naturally conceived child would.
Long-Term Health of IVF Babies
While studies have linked IVF to long-term health problems, those statistics are still relatively small. Overall, IVF babies have a great chance of being healthy and leading similar lives as the general population.
While the majority of IVF-conceived children are healthy, there are still risks of health problems that are linked to assisted reproductive technology.
While these are merely risks and not definite diagnoses, it is still important to be aware of the possibilities.
Because of the prevalence of multiple pregnancies after IVF (twins, triplets, etc.), many IVF babies are at a greater risk of being born prematurely.
Low Birth Weight
It is commonly reported that IVF-conceived offspring are at risk of lower birth weight. This includes both singleton and multiple pregnancies. The exact reasons for this are unknown.
Small for Gestational Age
According to this study, there is a 50% increase in the risk of being small for gestational age for babies conceived via IVF.
Congenital Birth Defects
There have been some studies that show babies conceived through IVF or other assisted reproductive technology are at greater risk of having birth defects, including defects that could increase their chances of cardiovascular diseases in the future.
However, the studies are limited by methodological and statistical difficulties. Whether birth defects are a result of IVF or infertility in general, is still being studied.
Imprinting disorders are a rare group of conditions that are thought to be due to the inappropriate expression of the maternal or paternal gene in early embryo development.
These conditions have been linked to IVF, but at this time, the estimated risk is 2-5 per 15,000 IVF children or .013%-.033%.
There are studies that suggest children conceived through IVF are at a higher risk of developing neurological problems, especially cerebral palsy.
Researchers suspect that the increased risk is largely due to the high frequency of twin pregnancies, low birth weight, and prematurity of babies born after IVF.
Epigenetics refers to the “switches” that control whether genes are turned on or off in early embryonic development.
Epigenetics has a significant influence on long-term health and has been linked to many chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, and psychiatric disorders.
In theory, IVF has the potential to alter epigenetic gene expression, which could cause long-term health complications later in life.
Complications Requiring Hospitalization
While the general outcomes of studies suggest that IVF children and young adults are healthy compared to the general population, some reports suggest IVF children are more likely to have childhood illnesses that require surgery and medical care.
Preimplantation Genetic Testing
Through preimplantation genetic testing, an embryo can be tested for abnormal chromosomes before it is transferred to the uterus.
Through this testing, embryos can be screened for both genetic and chromosomal abnormalities that can be linked to diseases or birth defects.
Preimplantation Genetic Testing Pros and Cons
There are always two sides to a coin, and such is the case with preimplantation genetic testing.
- Improved embryo selection
- Can prevent the transfer of embryos that will result in a miscarriage
- Prevent genetic transmission of unknown abnormalities
- Gender selection
- Less uncertainty
- Invasive procedure
- Can be an ethical and emotional challenge for parents
Should I Get an Amniocentesis?
In amniocentesis, doctors take a sample of the amniotic fluid surrounding a baby and screen it to check for signs of problems such as chromosomal disorders, genetic problems, or neural tube defects.
Your provider may recommend this test if you had an abnormal screening for disorders/defects, have a family history of genetic disorders, or are over age 35.
While the test can be very accurate and detect several disorders, not everything can be detected.
The rate of miscarriage from this test is between 1/300 and 1/500, so it is very slim. There is also a low risk of uterine infection, leakage of amniotic fluid, and injury to the fetus.
Do IVF Babies Look Different?
Absolutely not! There is no way to tell that a child is an IVF baby simply based on their physical appearance. The majority of IVF babies are healthy, normal babies who look just like babies conceived naturally.
Are IVF Babies Smarter?
There have been some studies that suggest IVF babies are more likely to perform better in school and have higher IQs than the general population.
At the end of the day, many people believe the risks of health complications are too minor to overshadow the wonderful opportunities that IVF brings to parents every day.
Be informed of the risks and possibilities, but remember that the “healthy” statistics are greater than the “unhealthy” ones!
Charlynn is an educator and mom to fraternal boy/girl twins. She loves learning through the experiences she has with her littles and using her knowledge to help other moms as they embark on the journey of motherhood.