Would Increased Risk of Birth Defects Deter You From IVF?


According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published yesterday in the journal Human Reproduction, fertility treatments that involve fertilization outside a woman's body slightly increase the chances for certain birth defects in singleton pregnancies.

The study, which looked at some 13,500 infants born with birth defects and 5,000 born without, found that 2.4% of the children with defects were born with assisted reproductive technology (ART) compared to 1.1% of the children without defects. The researchers concluded that some birth defects, such as a hole in the heart and a cleft lip or palate, are two to four times more likely in babies conceived by ART than those conceived without it.

But as one of the study's authors points out, those numbers are based on risks that are very low to begin with. When put in perspective, they wouldn't deter me from pursuing IVF.

In fact, if we let numbers stop us from trying to get pregnant, most of us would never take our panties off.

Consider: Every pregnancy has at least a 20% chance of miscarrying and a 3% chance of birth defects. Plus, for every year past 30, a woman's odds of chromosomal defects rise.

Furthermore, this study involved just 281 women who had undergone assisted reproductive technology, and the researchers suggest that the increased risk for birth defects could have to do with the underlying infertility of the women studied, rather than ART. Ultimately, they say, their findings have to be substantiated by more studies that address some of the limitations of their research.

Here's my favorite line from the report: "According to data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, 11.9% of U.S. women aged 15 to 44 years reported ever using some kind of infertility services." That slays me.

How many 15-year-olds are banging down the doors of reproductive endocrinologists because they haven't been able to conceive for a year? Sheesh, the fertility folks do everything they can to make the rest of us feel old.