Know Why Fertility Babies Are At Higher Risk for Birth Defects

In any pregnancy, the risk of having a baby with birth defects lies at 3%. However, if the infant was conceived through the use of ART (assisted reproductive technology) fertility treatment methods, the risk for birth defects is significantly higher.

According to a new study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), babies that were born through the use of ART, have twice or more times the risk of having a birth defect as compared to babies that were conceived and delivered in a natural way. Despite the increased rate of birth defect rate however, the risk is still considerably low in general.

What is ART?

ART stands for assisted reproductive technology. This type of fertility treatment has been popular in the United States since it was first introduced in 1981. Basically, ART refers to any kind of procedure which includes the process of surgically removing or collecting egg cells from a woman’s ovaries and combining such with sperm cells through the use of laboratory tools and other medical aids.

After the egg and sperm have been combined to form an embryo, such will be surgically “implanted” to the same woman’s body or to another woman who is capable of pregnancy and giving birth.

Although intrauterine or artificial insemination is also a well known fertility treatment, such is not included in the list of procedures utilizing ART. The use of Clomid, an egg-stimulating drug, is also not categorized under the ART type of birth assistance.

ART and the Risk for Birth Defects

Dr. Jennita Reefhuis, an epidemiologist at the CDCP’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, noted that there was an increased risk for some birth defects among babies conceived through ART. She notes that infants which were produced using ART have twice the risk of having septal heart problems. They also had more than twice the risk of having a cleft lip. Moreover, babies conceived through ART also had four times the risk of having gastrointestinal birth defects.

The study was conducted by Reefhuis and her fellows as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. The study involved 281 babies conceived through ART and 14,000 infants that were conceived the natural way. Although the researchers examined the risk for about 18 different categories of birth defects, they found out that only four were significantly associated with fertility treatment factors.

Limitations and Important Considerations

The conclusive findings of the CDCP study only involved single births. It should be noted that the researchers did not investigate the relation between the use of ART and the risk for birth defects in cases of multiple births. Furthermore, researchers postulate that since ART increases the probability of having multiple birth and that babies that were born as part of multiple births are already highly at risk for birth defects, ART also raises the risk of birth defects in general.

However, Reefhuis points out that it is important to recognize that although there may be an increased birth defect risk among babies conceived through ART, the individual risk for having the noted birth defects are generally low. Reefhuis furthers that regardless of any kind of conception or exposures during pregnancy, there remains a 3% risk that the baby will have some form of birth defect.


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