Are IVF babies healthy?
It is unreal to say that IVF babies are at a higher risk of developing congenital anomalies.
The simple answer is yes. Millions of babies have been born using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and they are perfectly healthy. The procedure does not pose any short term or long term risk to the health of the child. The primary difference between IVF babies and normal babies is the way in which they are conceived.
In a natural pregnancy, the embryo is formed inside the fallopian tubes. In each month of a woman’s menstrual cycle, one egg is released from the any of the ovaries. During intercourse, the sperm enters the fallopian tubes through the vagina and fertilization occurs. After about 6 days of fertilization, the embryo is transferred to the uterine cavity.
‘In Vitro’ literally means outside the body and in case of IVF, the egg and the sperm are fertilized outside the uterine cavity. For the procedure, eggs are collected from the ovaries of the female partner using Ovarian Pick Up (OPV) and one egg is combined with about 75,000 sperms in a petri dish and left in an incubator for about 24 hours. The best sperm fertilizes the eggs.
The embryo is checked for growth and can either be transferred into the woman’s uterus on day 3 or day 5, or frozen in a nitrogen chamber for a transfer at a later date. The baby thus growing in the uterus takes the normal course of a nine month pregnancy.
It is unreal to say that IVF babies are at a higher risk of developing congenital anomalies. The changes are about 2-3 per cent, which is the same as normally conceived babies. There may be a change of these if there is a family history of a certain problem which could be the cause for infertility in either parent. But it has nothing to do with the IVF process.
The risk of congenital defects also increases with multiple pregnancies. Some IVF centres transfer more than embryo at a time to increase the chances of success of the IVF cycle. But this should not be done and the trend of single embryo transfer in IVF should be encouraged.
Earlier, there were reports that IVF babies may suffer from neurological or cognitive defects. But, these were found to be false. They were even linked to higher chances of downs syndrome or Trisomy 21. But later reports found that this is caused by increased maternal age and has an equal chance in the normal process too. Some studies reported a connection between IVF and cancer, but no link could be established.
IVF babies can suffer from macrosomia, which is higher than normal birth weight of the child that can cause hypertension or cardiological problems later in life. After the process of IVF,( After the process of Ovum pick up), if a fresh embryo transfer is done, or a frozen embryo transfer is done in a natural cycle, there is no risk of the baby being overweight.
But, in case of frozen embryo transfer where the endometrium is artificially prepared for embryo implantation to mimic a natural pregnancy, there are chances of macrosomia.
The other misconception is that IVF babies are born through C-sections and not normal deliveries, but that is not true. In cases where the weight of the baby is high, however, we have to go for a C-section. In cases of fresh embryo transfer IVF, the chances of a normal delivery are the same as that for a natural conception.
The bottom line is that babies conceived through IVF are healthy. This process of conception does not pose any risks to the wellbeing of the parents or child, even in the future. The chances of developing a congenital anomaly or cancer is equal to those for babies conceived naturally.
Dr Saurav Prakash Maity is IVF Specialist at Rashmika Fertility, Kolkata.