The risk of birth defects with IVF (in vitro fertilization) are much higher, especially defects in the heart, urinary systems, reproductive organs, and the eye, researchers from UCLA reported at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans, on October 20th, 2012.

Even though IVF has become much more popular in the USA over the last few years, few people know about the birth defect risks, and even among health care professionals, the problem is poorly understood.

The researchers explained that the management of birth defects accounts for a large part of pediatric surgical care, and utilizes a considerable part of limited health care resources.

California leads in IVF rates in the country, says the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The scientists gathered and examined data on babies born in California from 2006-2007 after IVF, artificial insemination or fertility-enhancing drugs. The abstract is titled "Congenital Malformations Associated with Assisted Reproductive Technology: A California Statewide Analysis".

They also looked at the mother's age when she became pregnant, how often she had given birth before, the babies' sex, their year of birth, and the presence of major birth defects.

Study author, Lorraine Kelley-Quon, MD, a general surgery resident at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the research at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, said:

"Our findings included a significant association between the use of assisted reproductive technology, such as certain types of in vitro fertilization, and an increased risk of birth defects."

Out of 4,795 babies born after IVF and 46,025 who were conceived naturally, there were 3,463 with major birth defects - the mothers had similar maternal demographics.

The researchers reported that:
  • 9% of IVF babies were born with major birth defects

  • 6.6% of naturally conceived babies were born with major birth defects

  • 0.3% of IVF babies had malformations of the eye, compared to 0.2% of those conceived naturally

  • 5% of IVF babies had heart defects, compared to 3% among those who were naturally conceived

  • 1.5% of IVF babies had genitourinary system defects, compared to 1% among the naturally conceived infants

  • An IVF infant was found to have a 1.25 times greater risk of being born with a major defect compared to a naturally conceived infant

  • A mother who had an IVF baby with a major birth defect was at no significantly higher risk of giving birth to a second IVF infant with a major birth defect

  • Artificial insemination or ovulation induction did not increase the risk of major birth defects compared to natural conception
In all cases, the calculations were made after controlling for maternal factors.

Kelley-Quon said:

"For parents considering in vitro fertilization or other forms of assisted reproductive technology, it is important that they understand and discuss with their doctor the potential risks of the procedure before making a decision."

Written by Christian Nordqvist