NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Birth Defect Rate Higher With In Vitro Fertilization

October 31, 2002

More than 200,000 infants have been born in the United States alone using artificial reproductive technology. However, children conceived through in vitro fertilization have a higher incidence of birth defects.

A recent Australian study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that infants conceived by assisted reproductive technology, which includes in vitro and related procedures, have twice the risk of major birth defects as those conceived naturally.

  • The study identified 101 babies with birth defects among 1,138 infants born after in vitro fertilization, compared with 168 of the 4,000 naturally conceived babies -- 9.4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.
  • The defects include clubfoot, shortened limbs, heart malformations and anomalies of the sex organs.
  • Minor birth defects that could be repaired by surgery, such as extra fingers and toes, also were more common among the in vitro babies.

Other studies have shown that in vitro babies are more likely to be underweight and premature at birth.

U.S. clinics continue to report a higher percentage of multiple births than those in most other countries -- 39 percent compared with 26 percent in Europe. However, looking only at singleton births, the study found the increased risk of a major birth defects associated with assisted conception remained significant.

Source: Sherry Jacobson, "A Closer Look at in vitro," Dallas Morning News, October 28, 2002.


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