Answer from: Raúl Olivares, MD
This is a quite controversial issue. For many years, it has been suggested according to the different national registries, that babies born after IVF or other assisted reproduction techniques may have a higher risk of having health issues. This, in the end, could be slightly true, but we don’t know if this is because of the problems that the parents already have, which seems that it is more likely a theory. The babies may have more issues because their parents are a selected group of people with fertility issues. This could be the main reason for the problems.
There are also so-called epigenetic effects. These embryos are going to be created in an environment, which is not the standard one. We don’t know to what extent this different environment may cause slight problems in the embryos that may increase the risk of having certain diseases.
However, these kinds of epigenetic problems have been related to very rare diseases. They can indeed increase the risk of some of them, but if the normal incidence of these diseases is 1 in 3 000, the risk when you do IVF is going to be 1 in 2000. It is still very, very rare.
Therefore, we consider it, and of course, we can only confirm this according to our experience, and we must bear in mind that the oldest baby born after IVF is now 43 years old, so according to this experience, there is very little evidence that doing IVF could increase the health problems of these babies.
Answer from: Harry Karpouzis, MD, MRCOG, DIUE
The first baby born through IVF was back in 1978, so we can understand that today lots of children have become grown-ups, adults. W can do many studies to compare health issues that might appear in children coming from spontaneous conception and IVF. Indeed, there have been lots of studies in many countries in the world that are trying to find an answer to this question.
There is a very well known study regarding ICSI, which is the foundation of IVF that is usually used for low sperm count that has linked children coming from ICSI with a higher rate of autism. This study has never made it clear if this increase is biased or not, or if it is associated with the assisted reproductive technology or the fact that, for example, couples that seek IVF might be older. With all the studies that have been done, it’s very difficult to say if they are biased or not. For example, there was a study a few years ago that linked IVF and children that have an increased rate of high blood pressure problems. But again, there is no clear answer if this is related to the IVF procedure itself or whether it is related to health problems that the parents might have had, like obesity, more advanced age or any other problems that can lead to increased blood pressure.
In Sweden, there was a recent very big study, which showed that children coming from IVF might be at increased risk of death in the first year after birth. Especially, when IVF was done with frozen embryos. Again though, this study isn’t clear if this is the case or this is associated with multiple pregnancies. We know that IVF can cause multiple pregnancies, these can be related to low birth weight, prematurity, and all those things might be the reason for increased risk in the first year after birth. It’s the same thing with some studies that have shown increased birth defects related to the assisted reproductive technology itself or because these children came from parents of older age.
In Israel, which is a country that is very good in this sort of studies because girls and boys go to the military service, and also they have technology that keeps records of all the medical issues that someone may experience in life, there was a study that showed that children coming from IVF scored higher in cognitive scores and IQ scores. They did not have more health issues in comparison to children coming from spontaneous conception. The only difference was that they were seeking more appointments during their lifetime, but this can be related to their parents and the fact that they might have asked for medical assistance more often because they used IVF.
Generally, all the studies have not shown any clear evidence that there are increased risks for children coming from IVF.
Answer from: Elias Tsakos, MD, FRCOG
This is a very difficult question, and it’s very difficult to elaborate in one and a half minutes. In general, the answer is no, they don’t. What we have to discriminate is the huge difference between the general population and the infertile population.
IVF babies are made from infertile couples, so we should not be comparing the general population to the infertile couple population. Generally, 35% of babies born in a general population may have some sort of birth defects. There are some reports that maybe IVF or ICSI is increasing the chance of birth defects, but at the moment, there’s no particular consensus. There’s probably a feeling that this 3 to 5% risk may be increased by 1% more. We have to bear in mind that infertile couples are invariably older couples or couples with some sort of history that may affect the health of the children, and these are couples who wouldn’t otherwise become parents without the help of IVF. There’s a lot of investigations going on at the moment.
There’s a lot of experience gained from all those years of IVF, and what we have to bear in mind is that IVF pregnancies and IVF fetuses are very heavily screened during pregnancy. Sometimes, they are screened even before conception with genetic testing to eliminate any risks and ensure the health and the positive outcome of the pregnancy.
Are there any research papers confirming that IVF babies are less healthy than others?
The First IVF baby was born in 1978, since then, scientists have been wondering if there are any potential birth defects or any health problems in such children. Does IVF affect the child’s health? Is there an increased risk for babies to have more heart problems? These concerns will be discussed by our Fertility Specialists.