IVF Babies Healthy?

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An infertile couple having taken a decision to for IVF might be haunted with a much rumoured question. Are IVF babies healthy? Is there any difference in brain growth, physical growth or inheritance of genetic disorders in babies born with IVF? This blog tried to objectively settle these clouds with different researches and evidences.

Development delays

First we should enlighten ourselves with the chances of developmental delays in babies born with normal conception. You might be tempted to compare milestones of your first child with that of relatives’ children or to compare milestones of second child with that of first. We should not compare two children, not even children of same parents. Every child has its own pace of growth and demonstrating milestones. Every child follows a pattern of growth in height, weight and brain activities. It differs for everyone, but deviation has to fall within limits specified by WHO (World Health Organisation). If growth pattern or a milestone gets delayed beyond a specific range, you should visit a Pediatrician to confirm the development delay and provide rectification.

Fear Not, There Is No Difference in Development Delays

In a study published by a renowned journal JAMA Pediatrics, 5841 children from New York were evaluated from 2008 until 2010. Out of these 1830 were conceived through IVF and others by natural conception. Research team scientifically evaluated any delays in growth and development at 4, 8, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months. The study concluded that there was no difference between children born through IVF and children naturally conceived. About 13% of IVF children had development delays, while 18 percent of non-IVF children had development delays. Similar conclusions have been drawn by researchers from National Institute of Health, New York State Health Department and others institutions who found that delays in growth and development are not prevalent in children conceived through IVF.

They also concluded that children born by IVF are also not at a greater risk of developing learning disabilities, autism, or speech and language disorders compared with children conceived naturally.

This should reassure you those parents who already have IVF baby and allay apprehension of couples opting for IVF.

Genetic Disorders

Everyone has a unique sequence of DNA called genes. Any deletion, addition or substitution of genes during growth of fetus in uterus results in a genetic disorder. It can range from aberration of single gene to a chromosomal anomaly. A study published in American Journal of Human Genetics done on 1 million population, concluded that single gene disorder can occur in 3.6/1000 births and Chromosomal Anomalies in 1.8/1000 births.

Marfan syndrome is an example of single gene defect, characterized by long limbs and heart defect. Michael Phelps, winner of 14 Olympic Gold Medals for swimming is rumoured to have Marfan syndrome. Advanced father’s age is considered to be associated with Marfan syndrome.

Down’s syndrome is a chromosomal anomaly where cells have an extra chromosome instead of normal 46. This leads to congenital heart defect, mental retardation and growth problems. Advanced maternal age, especially after 30 years of age is an important risk factor for Down’s syndrome. Every mother wants her child to be smart and talented. It is for this reason that every pregnant mother is screened at 11 and 16 weeks to screen out Down’s syndrome. Risk increases as the age of mother being pregnant advances.

Knowledge of inheritance of a genetic disorder can help determine the risks in a pregnancy and the risk of recurrence in future children. Risk of having a baby with a genetic abnormality increases if:

  • Sibling has a genetic disorder
  • Mother, father or grandparents have a genetic disorder
  • Fetus has abnormalities seen on ultrasound
  • Advanced age of mother
  • Advanced age of father
  • Unknown

If any of the above risk factors are present, a couple needs counselling and screening tests to rule out genetic defect in the baby. IVF in itself has not been mentioned as cause of genetic disorders.

Birth defects

Birth defects can range from non fatal like cleft lip to life threatening like neural tube defect or congenital heart defect. Most studies estimate a risk of 4 to 5% of developing a birth defect in naturally conceived children. However, infertile couples opt for IVF mostly in advanced age. Late marriage, delayed decision making and wasting time in IUI (Intra Uterine Insemination) are other reasons responsible for advanced maternal age. To answer whether IVF increases risk of birth defects, we should look at findings of studies including infertile couples with IVF babies, infertile couples conceiving naturally, fertile couples conceiving naturally. Such studies provide appropriate control groups with comparable maternal age. Infertile couples have higher chances of birth defects and pregnancy related complications as compared to fertile couples. Higher chance of birth defects and complications in infertile couples was found irrespective of whether they conceived either naturally or by IVF. Hence it may not be prudent to blame IVF when underlying problems in infertile couple are responsible for birth defects and pregnancy related complications like low birth weight, premature delivery etc.

Maternal age is the primary risk factor for development of birth defects, irrespective of how the child is conceived. In addition to this, infertile couples have some factors responsible for birth defect, genetic disorders, developmental delays and complications related to pregnancy. Nevertheless, naturally conceived children with apparently normal parents may also exhibit defects and disorders. Certain medications during pregnancy, alcohol, lead, smoking, infections like Rubella are some of the avoidable causes of birth defects.

Especially for an infertile couple, it is wise to select a Birthing Hospital which has round the clock facility of Obstetrician, Anaesthetist, Neonatologist, NICU, Pathology lab, Sonography and all equipment to manage Obstetric and neonatal emergencies.

To allay any further queries, meet a Fertility Specialist and a Counsellor who will patiently answer all your questions and resolve your doubts in a relaxed environment. Advanced maternal age being one of most important risk factors for birth defects and chromosomal anomaly, it is critical to opt for IVF earlier to avoid wasting of time, resources, energy and ovarian reserve. Once you know that IVF is not conclusively responsible for increase in problems, it should not be an obstacle in opting for assisted journey of parenthood.

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