In vitro fertilization has generally been considered safe since the first IVF baby was born more than 30 years ago. But recent studies unveil a number of risks that couples considering the procedure should be aware of, reports Gina Kolata of the New York Times.
These IVF-related risks may include increased risk of low birth weight and premature birth, as well as severe birth defects like “a hole between the two chambers of the heart, a cleft lip or palate, an improperly developed esophagus, and a malformed rectum.” Studies indicate that IVF possibly give rise to abnormal genetic expression patterns that are responsible for these genetic disorders.
In addition to the more common birth defects, children born by IVF are also suspected to be at greater risk for other genetic disorders that are much rarer: Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (children with this syndrome are much more predisposed to childhood cancers of kidney, liver or muscle) and Angelman syndrome (severe mental retardation, motor defects and inability to speak).
Although certain risks of in vitro fertilization are beginning to surface, no finding is conclusive yet – these are preliminary studies that show “comparative risks,” but no “absolute risks” are known yet. Researchers are still in the process of discovering exactly what the risks are and what can be done to minimize them. More research reports will be available as scientists track the development and growth of babies born by IVF, and couples interested in fertility treatment should educate themselves about the risks in order to make informed decisions.