Use of assisted reproductive technologies like IVF carry
with them an increased risk of complications for mother and child, a report from
the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) highlights.
These risks are partially, though not wholly, attributable
to the fact that multiple births are more common in IVF. In the UK, one in four
IVF pregnancies result in multiple births due to the common practice of
implanting two or three embryos during treatment.
Multiple pregnancy is a risk factor for premature birth but
RCOG's scientific committee found that there is an additional 23 percent
increase in the chances of premature birth in IVF twins. For single births, children
conceived using IVF are twice as likely to be born prematurely than those
conceived naturally. Singletons conceived via IVF were also more likely to be
of low birth weight.
'The poor birth outcomes and complications may be a
combination of treatment and underlying features of the couple such as older
maternal age', said Professor Jenny Kurinczuk, director of the National Perinatal
Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University. 'However, treatment strategies can be
altered to improve outcomes such as the adoption of elective single embryo
The report also reviewed data on congenital anomalies, which
affect between three and five percent of infants. It found that children conceived
with IVF were more likely to be affected but that the absolute risk remained
low. The increased risk here was at least partly explained by underlying
Professor Kurinczuk stressed that 'the majority of the
children born following IVF will have a good outcome just like any other
The report goes on to note that IVF does not appear to be
associated with any risks for children later in life. No influence on brain,
language or behavioural development could be detected.
The paper also looks at egg donation and notes an increased
risk of related early pregnancy and birth complications here, in particular pregnancy-induced
hypertension (high blood pressure). The authors remark that there is a paucity
of information on the long-term outcomes of egg donation.