Assisted reproduction and the risk of birth defects

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Babies conceived using assisted reproductive technology have higher rates of certain types of birth defects, new federal research shows.

Earlier studies had suggested that high-tech fertility procedures involving both egg and sperm may be connected with an increased chance of some birth defects and, with more than 1% of births the result of such technology, researchers with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thought the possibility warranted a closer look. Using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, they compared infants born to women who had used the techniques with infants born to women who had conceived naturally.

They found that the risk of a septal heart defect (sometimes called a hole in the heart) or cleft lip (in which the upper lip doesn’t form properly) was more than doubled in infants conceived through assisted reproductive technology. The risk of certain gastrointestinal defects (esophageal atresia and anorectal atresia) was more than quadrupled.

The likelihood of such problems is small, but it does appear to exist. Researchers, however, are still unsure why -- perhaps the defects are related to the infertility itself -- but they said couples considering such treatment need to be aware of the chances, however slight.


The study was published in the December issue of the journal Human Reproduction.

In a related story, published recently in The Times: Babies, the easy way? ‘Used to treat infertility, reproductive technology should not be entered into lightly. It can pose risks to the unborn child.’

And: California’s risky trend: An over-40 baby boom.

-- Tami Dennis