The first ever “test tube baby” was born in 1978. Though that was 42 years ago, it is still relatively recent compared to other scientific discoveries. It’s understandable that you might have your questions about the efficiency of IVF and its outcome. So, are IVF babies healthy? One of the most common questions is if an IVF baby is any different from a baby conceived naturally or if either baby is healthier. The truth lies in scientific studies and research. IVF babies seem to be just as healthy as naturally conceived babies though there is evidence of certain disparities that require further research. So let’s begin!
Couples experiencing infertility often view IVF as a viable option. However, if there are any congenital abnormalities in the child, it may not be a direct result of the IVF treatment. It could possibly be the effect of abnormalities in the sperm or eggs of the partners involved as a result of the infertility itself. Specifically, men with a low sperm count possess the highest risk of having a child with an abnormality. Because men with low sperm counts often decide to try ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), ICSI might have higher risks of leading to abnormalities than IVF. This difference does not exist if the man involved in ICSI does not have a low sperm count. The probability of the fertile population having a child with a genetic defect is approximately 3%–5%. The birth defect rate increases by approximately 1 percent for those who undergo IVF. However, studies show that couples struggling with infertility have that same disparity even if they choose not to opt for IVF. Additionally, many individuals who opt for IVF are of older age. Older age does influence fertility and in turn the probability of the fetus developing a genetic abnormality. That is an important concept to keep in mind when analyzing the congenital abnormalities of any child conceived via IVF or any assisted reproductive technologies (ART).
A study in Australia used questionnaires and a three-hour medical screening of each individual in the study who were conceived by IVF. They found no evidence of heart, growth, metabolic or respiratory problems. ART conceived men also seemed to have lower blood pressures. However, IVF conceived adults reported suffering from asthma as a child. This disparity was not noticed during adulthood.
Imprinting disorders are when paternal or maternal genes are mistakenly expressed in the embryo. This risk in the IVF population is 2-5 individuals out of 15,000 while for the general population it is 1 out of 15,000.
Pre-implantation genetic tests (PGT) provide IVF patients with the opportunity to confirm if their embryo might test positive for a specific genetic disease. The search for the specific disease may be because one of the parents has the disease or is a carrier. This test is carried out before the embryos are transferred for implantation. That way, embryos with abnormalities or chances of a failed pregnancy can be avoided.
Amniocentesis is when a needle is inserted into the uterus to extract amniotic fluid from the amniotic sac, a bag-like structure that encompasses the fetus. The amniotic fluid is what the fetus floats in. By obtaining a sample of the fluid, paternity testing, genetic testing, testing for infections and a test for the fetus’s lungs can be conducted. This offers a way to ensure that the fetus is safe inside the womb!
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Decisions that you and your partner make regarding your fertility journey and completely intimate! A lot of the journey depends on intuition and following what you think is the best path with a little advice or help from your physician. However, as we have seen, the disparity between IVF babies and the general population is not very significant. Also, while I have been able to list some disparities between individuals conceived via IVF and those conceived naturally, there is still a lot that remains unknown. IVF technologies are only 42 years old. This means the oldest possible individual conceived using IVF is 42 years old. Hence, the possible side effects in the elderly are not yet known. There is still more to learn about IVF. But as we have seen, the medical community has devised tests and tools to help identify abnormalities in the embryos early on. With continued efforts by scientists and healthcare professionals, there will always be new and improved ways to know how your embaby is doing! If you ever have further questions, always contact your physician! They’ll help guide you through your TTC journey!
IVF is unarguably one of the greatest achievements by the medical community. Infertility is a rough, exhausting and draining journey. IVF provides those struggling with infertility with the opportunity to begin or expand their family. It gives them their long awaited bundle of joy. Unfortunately, many parents experience social stigma because of their decision to opt for IVF. Perhaps you have been asked insensitive or personal questions by friends and family. Or maybe people have found it okay to look down upon someone’s decisions and for their infertility issues they do not have control of. The worst of all, someone might have looked at your child differently once you revealed you’ve undergone IVF. Suddenly they question the child’s health and wellbeing when they have no idea what they’re talking about. If you have a child born via IVF, know that he or she is beautiful. Any concerns you have about their health should be between you, your child and a physician. Here at ART Compass, we are a TTC tribe and support one of another. There is no room for shame or hate.
O’Connell B, Sun H, “Study finds IVF children as healthy as naturally conceived peers, “Monash IVF, April 2016.