University of Leicester eBulletin

Birth Defects Double in IVF Babies

March 2002

No 53  


A new study has found that babies conceived through assisted conception procedures are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with major birth defects in their first year of life.

The research in Australia, published in the latest edition of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, also found that these babies were more likely to have multiple major defects.

Major birth defects were apparent in 8.6% of infants conceived by intracytoplasmic sperm injection and 9% of babies conceived by in-vitro fertilisation compared with 4.2% of naturally conceived children. The infants conceived by assisted conception had more major cardiovascular, genitourinary, chromosomal and musculoskeletal defects.

Report co-author, Jenny Kurinczuk, from the University of Leicester, said there were many factors that might increase the risk of birth defects.

"These factors could include the relatively older age of infertile couples, the underlying causes of their infertility and the medications used to induce ovulation and sustain conception," Dr Kurinczuk said.

"It might also be associated with the procedures themselves such as the freezing and thawing of embryos or the method of fertilisation."

Dr Kurinczuk, Senior Lecturer in Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology at the University, said she believed it was important that couples considering assisted conception were given as much information as possible.

"While a doubling of risk is significant, it must be remembered that more than 90% of infants had no birth defects," she said.

"However this is information that couples need to have so that they can make their own assessment of the risk."

Dr Kurinczuk said this study differed from previous international studies in that the research team had access to the comprehensive information contained in Western Australia's unique Reproductive Technology Register, Midwife's Notification System and Birth Defects Registry. The quality of the data enabled them to overcome some of the weaknesses of previous studies.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has awarded the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, through The University of Western Australia, a grant to extend the study, which will involve Dr Kurinczuk at Leicester, to look at birth defects in children up to six years of age and other pregnancy outcomes.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Jennifer J Kurinczuk
Senior Lecturer in Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health
University of Leicester
22-28 Princess Road West
Leicester LE1 6TP
Tel   0116 252 3202
Fax   0116 252 3272

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Last updated: March 2002
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