A new study from Australia suggests that babies born through assisted reproduction had higher rates of birth defects compared to those conceived naturally. The study was published online Saturday, May 5, 2012 by the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at a fertility conference in Barcelona, Spain.
Michael Davies, professor at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute, in a statement, “The unadjusted risk of any birth defect in pregnancies involving assisted conception was 8.3 per cent (513 defects), compared with 5.8 per cent for pregnancies not involving assisted conception (17,546 defects).”
The study used records from 1986 through 2002 on 303,000 babies conceived naturally and 6,163 conceived with help in Australia, along the side of records on birth defects detected by age 5. Researchers counted heart, spinal or urinary tract defects, limb abnormalities and problems such as cleft palate or lip, but not minor defects unless they needed treatment or were disfiguring.
Over 3.7 million babies are born each year through assisted reproduction. Methods that include drugs to help the ovaries to make eggs, artificial insemination and IVF (in vitro fertilization). They found 9.9 percent of children who were born using the ICSI method had birth defects, where only 7.2 percent who were born using the IVF method had birth defects.
“A history of infertility, either with or without assisted conception, was also significantly associated with birth defects. While factors associated with the causes of infertility explained the excess risk associated with IVF, the increased risk for a number of other treatments could not readily be explained by patient factors. ICSI, for instance, had a 57% increase in the odds of major defect, although the absolute size of the risk remained relatively small,” Michael Davies said.
The researchers looked at birth defect rates according to type of fertility treatment needed. They also had three comparison groups of women who conceived naturally.
Birth defects were more common intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) into an egg, which is done in many cases, especially if male infertility is the case. About 10 percent of babies born this way had birth defects compared the 6 percent of those conceived naturally.
Dr. Darine El-Chaar, an OB-GYN at Canada’s University of Ottawa said, “They take a sperm that is probably not normal and force it to conceive.”
“I don’t want to scare people because the vast majority of babies are born healthy,” said Michael Davies of the University of Adelaide in Australia.
Techniques have improved since this study was started, but even with genetic testing for various diseases it doesn’t always guarantee a perfect baby.