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Are birth defects linked to assisted reproduction?

Here are some troubling study results that bring bad news to both parents and doctors who had anything to do with assisted reproductive techniques – babies born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) have 2 to 4 times higher likelihood of having birth defects compared to babies conceived naturally, according to an article in the New York Times.

Now, before you start panicking, there are some limitations to the study mainly:

  • The study only looked at singletons, not multiples.
  • The study only looked at babies born via IVF, i.e. fertility treatments that involved handing the eggs and the sperm in the lab, but not babies born through other types of treatment.
  • The birth defects in question – cleft lip and cleft palate and abnormalities in the heart, esophagus or rectum – are very rare conditions, so that despite the increased likelihood, the risk is still low.
  • The study only compared 281 IVF-assisted births vs 14,085 natural births, thus making its statistical power a bit suspect.
  • The study observed an IVF-birth defect link but could not explain the mechanism behind the link.

The article moved on to give us the following statistics:

  • 52,000 babies were born via assisted reproduction in the US in 2005.
  • 12% American of women ages 15 to 44 years seek fertility treatments.

Conclusions of the experts? Maybe. But larger studies are needed to confirm the results before doctors and parents should start worrying.


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