NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Assisted Reproductive Techniques Carry Risks

March 15, 2002

Babies born through assisted reproduction may have a nearly 1 in 10 risk of major birth defects -- twice the risk among babies born naturally -- according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at the Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia in Perth compared the rate of major defects among 301 infants born after two procedures -- in vitro fertilization (IVF) and a variant procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) -- compared to 4,000 babies conceived naturally.

  • By the age of 1 year, 8.6 percent of children in the ICSI group and 9 percent in the IVF group had at least one major birth defect diagnosed, compared with 4.2 percent of children conceived naturally.
  • After accounting for several factors that could have influenced the risk of birth defects, such as the mother's age and the baby's sex, the researchers found that children conceived through ICSI and IVF were twice as likely to have a birth defect.
  • Even when researchers considered only singletons, infants conceived through assisted reproduction were still more likely to have birth defects.
  • Furthermore, babies conceived through IVF and ICSI techniques were also more likely to have multiple birth defects.

The increased risk of birth defects may be due to the underlying cause of infertility, drugs taken to encourage ovulation or to maintain a pregnancy in the early months, and/or some aspect of the techniques themselves.

In another study, researchers found that assisted reproduction increased the number of babies with a low birth weight. They found that the rate of low birth weight among children born in 1997-8 conceived through assisted reproduction was six times higher than among children naturally conceived.

Source: Scott Gottlieb, "Assisted reproduction increases risk of birth defects, study says," British Medical Journal, March 16, 2002; M. Hansen, J. J. Kurinczuk, C. Bower and S. Webb, "The Risk of Major Birth Defects after Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection and in Vitro Fertilization," and L. A. Schieve et al., "Low and Very Low Birth Weight in Infants Conceived with Use of Assisted Reproductive Technology," both New England Journal of Medicine, March 7, 2002.


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