Well over 5 million children have been born through the miracle of infertility treatment. That is good news indeed, not only for these kids, some of whom are now adults, but also for their parents. Despite the fact that in vitro fertilization (IVF), cryopreservation of embryos, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) have become almost routine, we know amazingly little about how these techniques affect the children in the long and the short term. We talked about these effects on yesterday’s Creating a Family show with Dr. Seetha Shankaran, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Neonatal Perinatal Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and author of comprehensive analysis of the literature on childhood and young adult outcome following infertility treatment and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility
The Good News about How IVF Affects Kids’ Health
The good news is that what research exists is finding that IVF and other reproductive medicine technology does not look like it affects the physical growth of the children conceived, the timing of the onset of puberty, or their cognitive, behavioral or mental health. They were no more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Children conceived through IVF are also not more likely to develop cancer.
The Bad News about How IVF Affects Kids’ Health
Children conceived through fertility treatment are significantly more likely to have neurological problems, for example cerebral palsy, than children conceived naturally, but this is due to the significantly higher occurrence of twins and premature birth. Research also suggests that children conceived via IVF are more likely to have higher blood pressure, higher blood sugar, and higher body mass indexes than the general population. You can listen to the show to hear more about this issue.
What We Desperately Need
Given how popular infertility treatment has become, it is amazing how little research has been done on the long-term effects on the children being conceived. For this research to be truly valuable it needs to cover a large number of children/adolescents/young adults and it needs to follow them over a long period of time. We need this research to inform the practice of reproductive medicine.
One of the roadblocks to doing this kind of in depth research on children conceived with IVF is the lack of a national database of children and parents. This is a controversial topic amongst parents that have used fertility treatment. Would you be willing for your child to be on such a database?